Sunday, September 19, 2010

Thomas Jefferson on Immigration

The wise and prolific Jefferson offered insight into many issues that are just as relevant today as they were over 200 years ago, including immigration. Jefferson offered a nuanced, balanced vision that affirmed that the United States should welcome immigrants, while cautioning about the hazards of allowing the rapid, growth of migrant populations. If more politicians heeded Jefferson's advice we could fashion immigration policies that were wiser and more humane.

In the following verse Jefferson spoke about the right to immigrate to the United States provided that migrants respected the laws of the land:

"Born in other countries, yet believing you could be happy in this, our laws acknowledge, as they should do, your right to join us in society, conforming, as I doubt not you will do, to our established rules. That these rules shall be as equal as prudential considerations will admit, will certainly be the aim of our legislatures, general and particular."

--Thomas Jefferson to Hugh White, 1801. ME 10:258

Jefferson affirmed that we should be a refuge for the oppressed of the world:

"Shall we refuse the unhappy fugitives from distress that hospitality which the savages of the wilderness extended to our fathers arriving in this land? Shall oppressed humanity find no asylum on this globe?"

--Thomas Jefferson: 1st Annual Message, 1801. ME 3:338

Jefferson's welcoming sentiments were tempered by the understanding that:

"The first consideration in immigration is the welfare of the receiving nation. In a new government based on principles unfamiliar to the rest of the world and resting on the sentiments of the people themselves, the influx of a large number of new immigrants unaccustomed to the government of a free society could be detrimental to that society. Immigration, therefore, must be approached carefully and cautiously."

The aim of wise immigrations policies were to encourage the healthy linguistic, cultural, political and economic assimilation of immigrants:

"Although as to other foreigners it is thought better to discourage their settling together in large masses, wherein, as in our German settlements, they preserve for a long time their own languages, habits, and principles of government, and that they should distribute themselves sparsely among the natives for quicker amalgamation..."

--Thomas Jefferson to George Flower, 1817. ME 15:140

The risk of large scale immigration was that assimilation would be retarded, which would allow for the importation of customs that were at odds with America's unique republican culture and institutions. The end result being that the United States would be incoherent in its culture and values.

"[Is] rapid population [growth] by as great importations of foreigners as possible... founded in good policy?... They will bring with them the principles of the governments they leave, imbibed in their early youth; or, if able to throw them off, it will be in exchange for an unbounded licentiousness, passing, as is usual, from one extreme to another. It would be a miracle were they to stop precisely at the point of temperate liberty. These principles, with their language, they will transmit to their children. In proportion to their number, they will share with us the legislation. They will infuse into it their spirit, warp and bias its direction, and render it a heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass... If they come of themselves, they are entitled to all the rights of citizenship: but I doubt the expediency of inviting them by extraordinary encouragements."

--Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.VIII, 1782. ME 2:118

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