The writings regarding immigration provided in the articles range greatly. There is the perspective that immigrants constitute a large illiterate population in the US as well as being a substantial proportion of criminals and insane people who are bound to be on the receiving end of charitable institutions. On the other end of the spectrum is Jane Addams’ insistence that the poor conditions of immigrants are a result of racial hatred and a lack of sanitary conditions that are caused by substantial failings of the American industrial system.
In certain ways, the debate over immigration contains many of the features of the modern day arguments that originated in the early 20th century. For example, it was argued that white people from foreign countries were one and a half times as likely to be criminals as white Americans born to white American citizens, while at the same time, Americans born to foreign parents were three times to end up as criminals as Americans born in the US and twice as likely as white people born in the United States. These arguments were based on racial bigotry, and the beliefs that foreigners, especially nonwhite foreigners, were racially and genetically inferior to white people, even those born in Europe or other countries comprised of the white population.
Like today’s arguments about Mexicans and other Latino populations, many of the fears expressed in the debate against immigration in the 20th century involved the high birth rate of foreigners when compared with the low birth weight in the United States. This raised concerns that the country would be “filled up” with people who were from the lowest classes in their own countries; in addition, these people were more likely to be from different racial and ethnic groups. This increased the chances that they would bring strange customs to the United States, and make them unable to blend in or assimilate. Further, it was argued that the only people that should be allowed to come to the United States from other countries should be those who demonstrate a clear benefit to the American society.
Amazingly, another argument that is currently involved in the debate about immigration was argued in the early 20th century as well. People believed that immigrants were taking jobs from Americans who would otherwise be filling the jobs; the argument against immigration was that cheap labor was not needed for degrading jobs because any job was able to be filled by any self-respecting American worker. Again, the issue of racial prejudice was part of this argument because it was said that it would be much better for the US to be involved with a period of slower industrial development featuring a labor supply that came from its own population rather than engaging in rapid industrialization stimulated by means that would inevitably result in “a lowering of our political and racial standards”.
The argument against restricting immigration had an entirely different perspective regarding the nature of the people who tend to come to the US. Instead of being from the “lowly classes” this argument posited that it is frequently the most intelligent people who have resources who opt to take a chance on leaving their home countries to seek opportunity in foreign lands. In addition, many groups that have emigrated to the US, such as the Chinese, have demonstrated their ability to provide substantial benefits to the American society and population, such as their contribution to building the railroads.
Finally, people who supported immigration during the early 20th century argued that the assimilation factor was a powerful asset to the American people. From the first day that an immigrant arrived on US soil, he or she would become an American rapidly and more thoroughly than people who were emigrating to other countries. The result of this assimilation would have the impact of strengthening the force of American civilization, because people who arrived quickly replaced their ties to the old country in order to change into loyal American citizens, and this identity was extremely strong because it was a transformation of choice rather than force.