Immigration is Still Making America Great


My French ancestors arrived in what was to become Delaware in 1645. Alexis Boyer was a Protestant Huguenot and he had two choices – leave Catholic France or die. In 1824 my great-great-great grandparents migrated to Ontario, Canada. Our family was on the losing side of the Great Uprising of 1798. The rebellion centered in Wexford where my family was from. The Irish revolt (famous for the song “The Pikes will come together on the Rising of the Moon!”) was the collective outrage against cold-blooded British oppression of Catholics. My Irish-American ancestors left Ireland to escape the 1840 Great Famine. Another British attempt to annihilate the Irish “race” from the face of the Earth.

As I watch the suffering refugees escaping the monstrosity of “religious” terrorists in Syria and the Middle East I feel a certain bonding. I know why my ancestors came to this country. Reasons not so different from those causing the current migration crisis. The mania of religious perversion has not changed much in 500 years! I can appreciate the irony of my French “American” family escaping the oppression of the Catholic Church but now are Catholics thanks to my Irish ancestors escaping the persecution of the Protestant Church of England.

I feel another connection with this latest migration. Much to my surprise after having my DNA tested I have discovered I am over a third “Mediterranean.” That includes all the North African countries and Mid-Eastern countries that are now a war zone. Now I know why I get that dark tan in the Summer! How many generations am I removed from being one of these unfortunate people? In historical terms – not many!

President Kennedy wrote we are a “Nation of Immigrants” and that is what we are. All of us! There is ample historical evidence the continual influence of new people has made us the strong nation we are. Yet with each new wave we have always had those who don’t want them. Today we have candidates for president who think walls will keep people out. Apparently they skipped history class when the Great Wall of China was discussed or Hadrian’s Wall or the countless other barriers designed to stop historic migrations. Not even the Roman Legions could check the thousands upon thousands of Goths (Germans) who flooded the empire in the 4th century A.D. Today those folks are called “Italians”!

History also teaches the damages of exclusion. Spain’s national status never recovered from the economic destruction of Muslims and Jews forced out by God’s “Catholic Majesties” Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. The agriculture region of Southern Spain crumbled when Muslim farmers were forced back to North Africa. The Dutch became the world’s leading trade nation due to Jewish merchants from Spain. And Scotland became the world’s leading textile domain thanks to Jewish workers’ knowledge and skills. Immigrants have been key to the economic development of the United States throughout our history.

The secret to our immigration success and the failure of Europe is one word: Assimilation! We have accepted and absorbed throughout our history “your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … the homeless, tempest – tossed ...” Today we are seeing just the latest movement of people trying to escape the same religious and political evils our families escaped in centuries past. While I generally identify myself as “Irish-American” I am first and foremost “American.” I am “Irish” on St. Patty’s Day and I have been accused of having an Irish personality. My charm no doubt!

Most countries, regardless of how many years you live in them, you cannot become a citizen if you weren’t born there. Many European countries have not even attempted to assimilate its migrant populations that have grown by millions in the last fifty years. Migrants have been discriminated against, used for cheap labor and forced to live in ghettos. The alienation created drives humans to seek a place to belong in often some very negative places. And that is the debacle Europe is reaping today. Absolutely no different than the state of affairs my French ancestor experienced in 1645. Alexis Boyer was no longer “French” — he was a “Protestant” and had to make a run for Delaware! See any difference from today! I don’t !

If being an American is ever determined by our race, religion or political beliefs and not on the common glue that holds us together as a people we shall join the Roman Empire and the long list of great powers that have faded into forgotten memory.

Bill Johnston is a retired staff organizer of the United Food and Commercial Workers. He is a member of the National Writers Union (Pacific Northwest Chapter). Email

From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2016

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