The number of immigrants living in the United States is at an all-time high. More than 61 million immigrants are currently residing in the U.S., many of whom are refugees. This number continues to soar. Nearly 85,000 refugees were admitted to the United States in 2016—a 22 percent increase from 2015. As these waves of immigrants enter the country, the warm welcome that once greeted immigrants to America has been replaced with apathy at best; in many places, immigrants are met with bitter rejection and hatred.
My father, who immigrated from Russia in 1977, remembers the move as a positive one. The cordial reception he received was uplifting, and he was frequently offered assistance so he would adapt with ease. This could be credited to the people he encountered, but is also attributable to the fact that 1970s America experienced particularly low immigration levels. Americans still kept an open mind when it came to newcomers, for the fears that often accompany mass migration were not present to compromise their basic values. With a middle-class standard of living currently in decline, people are quick to blame the large numbers of immigrants, whom they claim are taking their jobs, housing, and other necessities. Today, few refugees and immigrants are met with half as much compassion.
In actuality, a lack of compassion altogether typically awaits many entering the country today. Supporters of President Trump’s immigration ban fill the streets with signs reading “I’m Ready to Work on the Wall” and other anti-immigration slogans. Refugees are crowded into terribly maintained migrants camps, where thousands of people sleep on the floor, wear the same clothing for days, and are fed meals just short of food scraps. What’s truly horrifying, though, is that this of all occurs in a nation that prides itself on being a global superpower for its emphasis on equality and benevolence. Especially considering our country was founded by immigrants, who were also in search of a better life, makes this sudden change in principles both selfish and hypocritical.
History is known to repeat itself, and this decline in morals has been seen before. In the 1840s, a potato blight in Ireland destroyed the staple of the Irish diet, resulting in a famine that forced hundreds of thousands of peasants to emigrate to North America. Americans welcomed the first batch, but as the immigration continued, Americans’ opinions shifted, and the immigrants were then seen as a nuisance that didn’t belong. Anti-Irish sentiment spread rapidly throughout the country, and the nicknamed “Know Nothings” were labeled as lazy and uneducated. Many were met with violence, and those who were not faced resentment and persecution. Decent jobs were impossible to find, as employers advertised their reluctance to hire the newcomers by hanging “No Irish Need Apply” signs.
Every nation has had its low points in history, but it’s important to learn from the mistakes we’ve made, not repeat them. The American ideals of equality and tolerance should be consistently observed, not only applied when they suit our best interests.
Graphics: Justine Umali