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Building an Immigrant History

Jul 9, 2013
Jeanne M. Atkinson
“He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither; and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands” Declaration of Independence

Thursday was our nation’s birthday – a chance to celebrate not only who we are but also who we once were.  On the National Mall in Washington, D.C. tens of thousands of people – some new to our country, some here for many generations – gathered to watch fireworks and celebrate.  We were one nation that night, united not by our origin but by our destination. 

It has become a cliché now to say that we are a nation founded by immigrants, but it is true. The United States is a nation for which immigration has always been a fundamental issue.   Limits on immigration, in fact, were one of the motivations for our Declaration of Independence.  That document famously includes a list of grievances against King George III, and the one everyone seems to remember is the imposition of taxes without consent – or “taxation without representation.”   But a different grievance was also listed prominently: the King was anti-immigration.  As our founders wrote, he was “obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners” and refusing to allow migrants to pass into the colonies.   What was unacceptable to our founders 237 years ago is still unacceptable today.  We must continue to welcome those who seek to build lives for themselves here in America and who, in that process, make our country strong. 

Last week, many Americans, including myself, paused for a moment to think about America’s history – the story of people coming to this land from all over the world and creating the country that is America today.  Next year, and in ten years and, God willing, in a hundred years and beyond, people will be examining and learning from the history of this country which we, American-born and immigrant, are currently making.   I am proud to work with CLINIC’s staff and affiliates -- people who, like our founding fathers, recognize the importance of immigration to building this nation and keeping it vital, creative, and strong.

Jeanne M. Atkinson is the Executive Director of CLINIC.