Article by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.
A nation of immigrants: This is a convenient myth developed as a response to the 1960s movements against colonialism, neocolonialism, and white supremacy. The ruling class and its brain trust offered multiculturalism, diversity, and affirmative action in response to demands for decolonization, justice, reparations, social equality, an end of imperialism, and the rewriting of history — not to be “inclusive” — but to be accurate. What emerged to replace the liberal melting pot idea and the nationalist triumphal interpretation of the “greatest country on earth and in history,” was the “nation of immigrants” story.
By the 1980s, the “waves of immigrants” story even included the indigenous peoples who were so brutally displaced and murdered by settlers and armies, accepting the flawed “Bering Straits” theory of indigenous immigration some 12,000 years ago. Even at that time, the date was known to be wrong, there was evidence of indigenous presence in the Americas as far back as 50,000 years ago, and probably much longer, and entrance by many means across the Pacific and the Atlantic — perhaps, as Vine Deloria jr. put it, footsteps by indigenous Americans to other continents will one day be acknowledged. But, the new official history texts claimed, the indigenous peoples were the “first immigrants.” They were followed, it was said, by immigrants from England and Africans, then by Irish, and then by Chinese, Eastern and Southern Europeans, Russians, Japanese, and Mexicans. There were some objections from African Americans to referring to enslaved Africans hauled across the ocean in chains as “immigrants,” but that has not deterred the “nation of immigrants” chorus.
Misrepresenting the process of European colonization of North America, making everyone an immigrant, serves to preserve the “official story” of a mostly benign and benevolent USA, and to mask the fact that the pre-US independence settlers, were, well, settlers, colonial setters, just as they were in Africa and India, or the Spanish in Central and South America. The United States was founded as a settler state, and an imperialistic one from its inception (“manifest destiny,” of course). The settlers were English, Welsh, Scots, Scots-Irish, and German, not including the huge number of Africans who were not settlers. Another group of Europeans who arrived in the colonies also were not settlers or immigrants: the poor, indentured, convicted, criminalized, kidnapped from the working class (vagabonds and unemployed artificers), as Peter Linebaugh puts it, many of who opted to join indigenous communities.
Only beginning in the 1840s, with the influx of millions of Irish Catholics pushed out of Ireland by British policies, did what might be called “immigration” begin. The Irish were discriminated against cheap labor, not settlers. They were followed by the influx of other workers from Scandinavia, Eastern and Southern Europe, always more Irish, plus Chinese and Japanese, although Asian immigration was soon barred. Immigration laws were not even enacted until 1875 when the US Supreme Court declared the regulation of immigration a federal responsibility. The Immigration Service was established in 1891.