The History of ‘Extreme Vetting’ of Immigrants

The United States began as a nation of immigrants, and it continues to be so today. The ability to absorb people from around the globe is a hallmark of American exceptionalism.

America has succeeded mostly through what The Heritage Foundation’s Mike Gonzalez has called “patriotic assimilation,” in which immigrants have not just been taught how to adapt to the economy of the U.S., but also the customs and beliefs of larger American culture.

It is this fading notion of assimilation that has been a great strength for America since its founding. But, the extraordinarily welcoming nature of this country can be turned against it; assimilation simply won’t work on those who are expressly opposed to the idea.

U.S. immigration laws have varied over the country’s history, but they have generally evolved to meet internal needs and external threats.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that President Donald Trump’s administration is considering “extreme vetting” of both visitors to the U.S. and potential immigrants to prevent terrorist attacks from occurring within American borders.

This is in line with a campaign speech in which Trump said he wanted to weed out terrorist sympathizers with “hostile attitudes towards our country or its principles” from coming into the country.

While details of what Trump’s extreme vetting will look like are unclear, some have already come out to call it “Muslim-targeted” and likely to be ineffective.

It is important to keep the current debate in perspective of our changing immigration laws through the centuries.

Founders Warn of the ‘Grecian Horse’

The Founding Fathers had different ideas about immigration, but almost universally understood that it was important for new arrivals to both adapt to the American norms and also not present a direct threat to the United States.

Thomas Jefferson noted in his famous “Notes on the State of Virginia” that a good immigration policy is not simply about numbers of arrivals and labor markets.

He asked rhetorically: “ … Are there no inconveniences to be thrown into the scale against the advantage expected from a multiplication of numbers by the importation of foreigners?”

Jefferson argued that the U.S. was built on a unique set of principles, and that Americans should be cautious when importing people from tyrannical countries.

Alexander Hamilton, who was an immigrant himself, also warned of “too unqualified admission of foreigners,” but said there was a “wide difference between closing the door altogether and throwing it entirely open.”

“To admit foreigners indiscriminately to the rights of citizens, the moment they put foot in our country … ” Hamilton cautioned, “ … would be nothing less, than to admit the Grecian Horse into the citadel of our liberty and sovereignty.”

The Founders’ solution to the conundrum of being a land that both welcomes immigrants, yet keeps its core ideals intact, is assimilatory…

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