As the presidential election kicks into full gear this winter, immigration is fast becoming one of the campaign’s most controversial issues. Some candidates are calling for limits and even bans on certain groups of immigrants, while others favor a pathway to citizenship for those already here.
This is not the first time Americans have grappled with immigration. In the 1840s and 1850s, some Americans urged barring Catholic immigrants from Ireland and Germany, and in the 1870s and 1880s, some urged barring immigrants from China. One of these efforts succeeded, and one failed. Throughout the 20th century, Americans debated tightening immigration—and loosening it—numerous times, particularly in the 1920s, 1960s, and 1970s. How does today’s debate on immigration compare with these previous ones?
Supporters of immigration have argued that the United States has long been a refuge for people the world over and should welcome foreigners seeking freedom and opportunity. Opponents, however, have argued that economic problems and fears of national security require the United States to severely restrict who can enter the nation and become citizens.
What light can history shed on today’s most pressing issues? Issues & Controversies in American History will help your students understand how debates over immigration have shaped our nation for more than 200 years. These debates have transformed U.S. policy and redefined what it means to be an American. Ask your students what their positions are on immigration. Then advise them to get some historical context by examining past debates on the issue, such as “Nativism and the Know Nothings” or “Chinese Exclusion Act.”
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