What were American attitudes towards immigrants?

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mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

American attitudes toward immigration have generally not been positive. Immigrants, for various reasons, have threatened Americans. Often, Americans have feared that immigrants will take away their jobs or help drive wages down by increasing the supply of workers. Americans have feared that immigrants will bring diseases to our country. Americans have been frightened by the different religious practices of the immigrants. The Irish, who were Catholic, frightened many Americans. When immigrants came from South and East Europe, people felt threatened by the different customs and languages of these immigrants. Other people believed immigration to our country would increase poverty and crime. Some people believed that immigrants supported anarchy or communist ideology.

There have been many groups that have worked to oppose immigration or intimidate immigrants in our country. The Know Nothing Party was an anti-immigrant group in the 1840s. The American Protective Association was another group against immigration. The Ku Klux Klan tried to intimidate those who weren’t white and Protestant. In the 1920s, laws were passed to restrict immigration to our country. The Emergency Quota Act and the National Origins Act limited immigration to the United States in the 1920s.

Considering that the families of most Americans were immigrants at one time, it is interesting to see how future generations have generally opposed immigration to the United States.

mrkirschner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Xenophobia is a fear of foreigners.  The word is of Ancient Greek origin and has its origins in Ancient Greece where the Spartans did not allow foreigners to enter their city-state.  For this reason, it is easy to surmise that a negative perception of foreigners did not originate in the United States.

Having said that, Americans have always had a negative attitude towards immigrants, particularly from countries other than Northwest Europe.  From the Irish to the current waves of Syrian and Mexican immigrants, Americans have always looked down on immigrants.  An unfounded belief that Americans hold dear is the notion that these new citizens will not assimilate to American culture.  They will somehow change the United States.  They tend to view immigrants as culturally inferior which is what causes this fear.

Americans have always feared newcomers.  Nativist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, immigration laws that target certain countries, and the internment of an immigrant group have all worked to make the immigration experience difficult throughout America's history.