Happy fourth of July everyone! We hope you are celebrating with your loved ones safely.
The fourth of July holiday is often a time when we think about the founding of this country – when we celebrate the story of how the United States came to be. The long narrative of independence gets condensed down to one date – 1776 – and the founding fathers loom large in our collective memory.
What often gets lost in the retelling of our story is the vital role of immigrants in shaping our nation. Immigrants themselves were instrumental to the early nation-building, and the idea of how more people would come to the United helped shape discussion around framing the constitution. Who would be allowed in? And how long would it need to be before immigrants were allowed to naturalize? Sensing the need for educated men to relocate, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others argued for a shorter term of two years. Immigrants, they argued, would need to see a clear pathway to a prosperous life that included civic engagement.
Many founding fathers imagined America as a place where many people would want to come. They envisioned a country where part of the allure would be the ability for immigrants to gain citizenship. Of course, at the time this still excluded large segments of the population, namely non-whites and women.
Several of the original signatories – including Alexander Hamilton and James Wilson – were immigrants themselves. But in such a young country, many more were second-generation immigrants.
Immigrants held many of the top posts in our fledgling nation – including one third of the first Supreme Court, four of the first six Secretaries of the Treasury, the first Secretary of War, and 8 of the first 81-member Congress.
The question of immigration has become increasingly partisan. Attitudes towards immigration have always swung between welcoming and hostile, depending on which population was moving in at a given time, how the economy was performing, and how immigrants were perceived.
Immigrants continue to make up a significant part of the American population. Pew research puts the current immigrant population at 13.6% of the total population. For those currently residing in the US, those born in Mexico make up the largest share of those immigrants, at 25%. Trends are changing, however, as they always have. Since 2005, new arrivals from Asian countries outnumber those of Hispanic origin. Demographic projections are always changing, but Pew Research Center estimates predict that in 45 years, Asians will comprise 38% of all immigrants with Hispanics comprising 31%.
So on this fourth of July weekend, we want to remember that from the founding generation to today, immigrants have been vital to who we are as a nation!