Immigration - Some History and Context
Consider the situation confronting a sovereign nation. Large numbers of immigrants, some legal but most illegal are entering the country and are unwilling to assimilate. Most refuse to learn the national language, embrace local customs or abide by the laws of their new country. In many areas the immigrants out number the local citizens. Worse, these illegal aliens demand expensive government services while refusing to pay taxes. The topper is that they threaten native citizens, engaging in campaigns of intimidation, that includes assault, murder and rape and they steal large quantities of local citizens' property. Many flee for their safety.
That is the situation that Mexico faced in the 1830's in the then Mexican state of Texas. "Undocumented" Americans were streaming across the border from the east, stealing land from local indigenous peoples and living outside the law. Even those that immigrated legally mostly refused to live up to the terms of the immigration laws namely that they learn the national language, Spanish, practice the national religion, Catholicism, and abide by Mexican law. This later point was particularly troublesome because Mexico had outlawed slavery and most of the Americans arriving, especially the so called elites' were slaveholders and believed slavery was the foundation of their economic success.
When Mexico made feeble attempts to rein in these immigrants they were met by a series of insurrections. Thus began Texas's long and dishonorable history of succession, first from Mexico, then from the Union in the Civil War and continuing with threats in recent years by previous Governor Rick Perry and the current Governor Greg Abbott. Texas finally gained independence from Mexico in 1836 and joined the Union in 1845 tainted "with two deadly crimes, the leprous contamination of slavery, and the robbery of Mexico" as John Quincy Adams put it.
Between Texas independence in 1836 and statehood in 1845 the number of slaves quintupled to 40,000 and had grown to 182,000 by 1860 and the Civil War. And Indians, who had some rights and protections under Mexico, lost them under the US with the Indian Protection Act of 1850 which stripped them of their land and allowed them to be auctioned off to Anglos for forced labor.
It is worth having a bit of that historical context when considering the current Hispanic "immigrants" to the USA. But it is also worth looking a bit deeper.
There are two underlying elements related to immigration that never get discussed. First, we should remember that borders are often just arbitrary lines drawn on a map as occurred in the Middle East when Britain and France arbitrarily created the "nations" in that region. More typically national boundaries are created by force, which is the case in the US. Remember the famous campaign slogan "Fifty-four Forty or Fight!"? Soon to be President Polk was ready to go to war to enforce his claim against British Canada. He settled for the 49th parallel losing Vancouver and much of British Columbia in the process. He took a harder line with Mexico, a less formidable adversary, openly calling for annexation of much of that nation. He promptly provoked a war with Mexico in 1846 that brought the US west Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and California. As John Quincy Adams again observed "in this (Mexican) war, the flag of liberty will be that of Mexico, and ours, the flag of slavery." So it is useful to remember that the US borders often deem fixed and sacrosanct were created by force and the quest to get more "free" land (that occupied by Native Americans and Mexican citizens) and to open more territory to slavery.
The second issue that seems not to be addressed is the whole concept of land "ownership". Who does the land belong to both individually and nationally and how long are those ownership rights good for? If a person or a nation "owns" land and is driven from it do they have rights to reclaim it? For how long? I had a friend who was born in Latvia. In WWII much of his family was killed by the communists and the Nazis in turn. He and his mother escaped to the US in the 1940's. After the Soviet Union collapsed and Latvia gained independence he and his mother were allowed to claim the farm they had lived on before being driven out. That claim was 50 years old. The people living on the farm had acquired it innocently from the government of the time. Should they be displaced? Who should now "own" that property?
If 50 years is legitimate should Native Americans be able to reclaim the land taken from them 125 years ago or Mexicans who were driven out 150 years ago? What is the "statute of limitations" on these things? The Jews claimed that they had a right to Israel after 2000 years. If that precedent was applied to the US most of us would be subject to displacement.
Some have suggested that Mexicans are now taking over parts of the US. Does Mexico want its territories back? Does the US want even more of present day Mexico? Well both have precedents. After Gadsden Purchase of 1853 established the present day border with Mexico there have been at least seven well documented attempts by US groups to invade and take additional Mexico territory.
From the Mexico side there have been forays as well. In 1859 the Mexican American Juan Cortina in response to a racist incident captured Brownsville, Texas and proclaimed the short lived Republic of the Rio Grande. And of course there was the famous raid by Poncho Villa on New Mexico in 1916 killing 19 Americans, the last foreign invasion of the US mainland. This sent Blackjack Pershing and 6,000 US troops into Mexico for more than a year without ever finding Villa. Pershing is reported to have said his reputation was "saved" by being called back to lead the US "expeditionary" force in WWI.
As we continue to discuss immigration and border issues it might be useful to remember a bit of history about how our borders were established and what land ownership means. And to consider that every wall we build has two sides, it can keep "us" in as much as keep "them" out.
One Small Voice
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