Benjamin Franklin once wondered why Pennsylvania should ‘become a Colony of Aliens.’
The times may change but the immigration debate endures, with each wave of new arrivals smashing into variations of the same old arguments.
In the 1750s, Benjamin Franklin was already complaining about the use of bilingual signposts in Pennsylvania to accommodate the swarthy hordes of German migrants. “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens,” wrote Franklin, “who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of us Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language and Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion?”
In the antebellum period, Samuel Morse, the inventor of the telegraph and a leader of the Know Nothing movement, called for banning Irish Catholics, whom he accused of subverting America’s values and ideals. Talk of the “Yellow Peril” came next. In a famous political cartoon from 1881, Lady Liberty is depicted as a Chinese coolie gripping an opium pipe. Italians, Jews, Poles and others shortly thereafter would experience similar treatment.
In recent decades, the boisterous conversation surrounding immigrants from Latin America has addressed similar themes. Are they stealing jobs and depressing wages? Are they driving up crime rates and stretching our social services? Are they assimilating? How much unskilled foreign labor can our modern economy absorb?
Jason L. Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, and a Fox News commentator.