Thoughts on the Fourth of July


We know that when this country was founded, it came into being to ensure respect for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Those words are in the Declaration of Independence, but that document says much more. It lays out a bill of particulars, reasons why the colonies had to separate from England. One of those reasons was immigration.

“We have reminded [our British brethren] of our emigration and settlement here”, Jefferson wrote in 1776. He charged in the Declaration that the king “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…” In other words, one of the reasons for the revolution was the king’s interference with immigration.

In his widely read revolutionary pamphlet Common Sense, Thomas Paine wrote that the new United States would “ receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.” The promise of America was not just for those descended from the Pilgrim fathers, but for any who came after and embraced its ideals of freedom.

George Washington carried this same theme forward after the Revolution. In an address to the Irish of New York City on December 2, 1783, the future president said:

“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations And Religions; whom we shall wellcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.”

While anti-immigrant panics would periodically take hold over the centuries, America’s founders clearly saw themselves as opening the new country up to immigrants with all of the fruitful diversity they would bring.

Celebrate immigration as a founding principal this July 4th.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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