Ellis Island and Other Myths

Published on October 18th, 2011

We have often been told that "America was built by immigrants."

Certainly our nation has been one of the most welcoming nations in the world if not the most welcoming nation.  Annually, the United States grants lawful immigrant status to more than 1.1 million aliens–immediately placing them on the pathway to United States citizenship.

The issue is that those who advocate open borders and unlimited immigration have seized on that phrase about America having been built by immigrants as a way of persuading as many people as possible- among them our fellow Americans as well as our leaders, that the American Dream was the result of this massive influx of immigrants.  If you accept this hypothesis that the American Dream is largely attributable to huge numbers of immigrants being admitted into the United States, it becomes easy to then presume that even more immigrants will create even more success for our nation and our citizens.

The problem is that the underlying foundation of our nation's successes is not simply the result of immigration but the result of our Constitution and the freedoms it guaranteed its citizens.  Our nation's incredible and unparalleled successes are also the result of economic opportunities that our economic system provided.  This was the concept that became known as the "American Dream."

The American Dream meant that anyone who was willing to work hard, acquire important skills or trades or a graduate with an advanced education could become a member of the Middle Class.  With a bit of luck and perhaps an innovative idea anyone could write the next success story!

That is what the expression that is seldom used today was about.  That expression was, "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door!"

Today our Middle Class should be placed on the "Endangered Species List!"

Simply permitting huge numbers of foreigners (aliens) to enter a country would not only lead to success but could result in chaos and strife.  Consider what has happened to so many countries when a human tsunami of people charge across international borders when their homelands are wracked by famine or war as we have seen all too often in Third World Countries!

It is as absurd to simply attribute the creation of the American Dream to lots of immigrants entering our country as it would be the say that the reason an ocean liner is able to successfully cross a vast ocean and weather storms and rough seas to safely bring its passengers to their destination, is purely the result of hundreds of passengers boarding that vessel.

A bit of reflection will make it clear that the reason an ocean liner is able to make that journey is the direct result of the ship being sea-worthy, its fuel tanks filled to capacity and its engines and other systems operating properly and skilled crew working throughout the ship including the captain, navigator and others on the bridge guiding that vessel to the destination they set out to reach.

The American ship of state has been powered by the opportunities our form of government and economic system have provided, beckoning so many of those immigrants who were fortunate to have been able to make their way to this country and then be lawfully admitted so that they could contribute to the incredibly diverse tapestry that is the United States of America!

In the days of Ellis Island, aliens who could not support themselves were sent home!

Please don't misunderstand my position–I am not saying that immigration has not played a major role in shaping our nation, but that the American Dream was not simply the result of immigration.

Certainly many American immigrants from across the globe have contributed greatly to our nation, but at the same time it must be remembered that while the open borders advocates wax poetic about Ellis Island and bemoan the fact that Ellis Island was closed and is now, in fact, a national museum dedicated to the immigrants who contributed to the building of our nation, I suspect that if somehow Ellis Island was to be reopened and was made to function the way it did before its closing that the same open borders advocates would be the most vociferous opponents of using that facility the way that it was before its closing.  Ellis Island was, in fact, a quarantine station.  Ellis Island was the site of this port of entry into the United States because the intention was to make certain that no one seeking entry into the United States could make it to the U.S. mainland unless they were intentionally admitted into the United States by the officials of that facility.

Immigrating families were often given the very difficult choice of having to decide to either enter the United States without a family member who was found to be inadmissible or accompany that family member back to their homeland.

It is, in fact, impossible to avoid the obvious comparison between Ellis Island on the East Coast and Alcatraz, a maximum security prison on the West Coast that was also established on an island to make certain that no prisoner could escape.  As was the case with Ellis Island, the only way a prisoner could successfully leave Alcatraz and make his way to the U.S. mainland was on a boat provided by government officials when a prisoner completed his prison sentence.

Being admitted into the United States, back then, was considered a privilege as it should be today!

Additionally it is important to remember that while Ellis Island was closed, a huge number of other ports of entry were opened including so many international airports through which so many lawful immigrants and temporary nonimmigrant visitors enter our country each and every day!

The concept behind our nation's immigration laws parallels how a responsible person determines whether or not to admit a stranger into his (her) home.  The front door of nearly every house and apartment has a peephole and a signaling device such as a doorknocker or a door bell.  A stranger seeking to enter that dwelling would be expected to knock on the door or ring the bell to notify the person who lives in that dwelling that someone wants to come in.  The peephole provides an opportunity to check out the visitor.  Only a fool would leave his door unlocked or unlock the door without making a determination as to whether or not the visitor is someone who should be admitted.

Over the past several decades, our nation's leaders have made it successively easier for aliens to enter the United States and acquire visas to enter the United States.  In fact, until only a few decades ago, with few exceptions, only citizens of Canada or landed immigrants of Canada who were citizens of the United Kingdom were permitted to enter the United States without first applying for and receiving a visa.  In the name of trade and commerce a pilot program involving just a handful of countries, the citizens of those countries were permitted to enter the United States under the aegis of the Visa Waiver Program.  Today, even with our nation's ongoing efforts to combat international terrorism and transnational criminal organizations, the number of Visa Waiver countries has risen to 36.

This sort of thing would have been utterly unthinkable during the era of Ellis Island and, in fact, would have been unthinkable when I was sworn in as an Immigration Inspector in October of 1971.

The screening process by which aliens are now provided with citizenship is a mere shadow of what that process entailed just a couple of decades ago.  When I began working for the INS aliens seeking to naturalize the alien applicant was required to provide two witnesses who would accompany that alien to the naturalization interview to vouch for the good moral character of that intending citizen.

That was not enough, however!  INS investigators would head out to conduct what were referred to as "Good Moral Character Investigations," to make certain that the alien who had applied for citizenship was not only not a convicted felon but was a decent person who did not hang out in brothels, beat his wife and children and was otherwise worthy of citizenship!

Today so many of our politicians are tripping over themselves to offer to place millions of illegal aliens, who violated our nation's borders and likely violated many other immigration and other laws along the way, on a pathway to United States citizenship even thought their true identities and backgrounds are unknown and unknowable!

This madness reminds me of a famous quote by the American comedian Groucho Marx who famously remarked that he would not want to belong to an organization that would have him as a member!

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