The Center for Immigration Studies reports this morning that the number of immigrants, both legal and illegal, in the United States is now 41.3 million, the highest it has ever been. Even as the American economy continues to sputter and many Americans face unemployment or underemployment, an additional 1.4 million immigrants entered the country between 2010 and 2013. During that same period, the countries seeing the greatest increase in the number of their citizens becoming immigrants to America were India, China, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Jamaica, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iraq. In percentage terms, 13.1% of all those living in the United States were born abroad, the highest percentage since 1921.
1921 was also, not coincidentally, the year Congress first sought to restrict the massive immigration through Ellis Island that was then transforming America. Three years later Congress effectively ended that immigration, with the Immigration Act of 1924, signed into law by President Coolidge who felt that “America must be kept American." The effect of that legislation was to aid the assimilation of the millions who had come through Ellis Island in the preceding decades (including six of my great-grandparents). The Ellis Island immigrants were expected to become Americans, and the children of those immigrants who fought with Patton and MacArthur certainly thought of themselves as Americans. Indeed, many have remarked on the strong sense of American identity present in the decades following the Immigration Act of 1924.
There is even more need for such an assimilation-aiding immigration moratorium today. The current immigrants come from countries far more different from America than the lands of Eastern and Southern Europe that fueled our last immigration boom. And the America of today is far less self-confident and far less willing to impose its traditions on newcomers than was the America of Calvin Coolidge. One sign of the great difference between Coolidge’s America and Obama’s is that none of the likely presidential candidates for 2016 is yet calling for an immigration moratorium. But maybe some enterprising candidate will seize on public unease over immigration to make this an issue. As Ann Coulter notes in today’s column, immigration is cited as the “biggest problem” facing the country by Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in the most recent Gallup poll, and even among Democrats only two other issues take precedence. It is past time for another president like Silent Cal.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.