You can sing about sea to shining sea or amber waves of grain, but it’s immigration that provides America’s basic rhythm. Nothing distinguishes the American experience from that of other nations more than the mass migration of people from elsewhere to here. We are truly a nation of immigrants: Close to 90% of the population–excluding Native Americans and those who were forced here in shackles–moved here out of their own volition.
Not that this has made things any easier for immigrants. In the 1850s the nativist Native American Party–reacting to a wave of Irish Catholic and German immigrants–declared that America faced “an imminent peril” from immigrants “of an ignorant and immoral character.” California in the late 19th century tried to ban Asian immigration and land ownership. In 1924 immigration from everywhere outside northern Europe was severely restricted.