By the very nature of the principles upon which it was founded, the United States—more than any other nation in history—beckons to its shores the downtrodden, the persecuted, and all those “yearning to breathe free.” It embraces those who come to this country honestly, armed with their work ethic, in search of the promises and opportunities of the American Dream. Why does America welcome immigrants?
The key to the uniquely successful story of American immigration is its deliberate and self-confident policy of patriotic assimilation: America welcomes newcomers while insisting that they learn and embrace its civic culture and political institutions, thereby forming one nation from many peoples—e pluribus unum. While there are differences of opinion about the number of immigrants the nation should accept and the process by which they should become citizens, there has always been widespread, bipartisan agreement that those who come here should become Americans.
The overwhelming result of this policy of assimilation, throughout American history, has been a strengthening of our social capital, the continuing expansion of our economy, and the constant renewal of our national purpose. America has been good for immigrants, and immigrants have been good for America.
Rather than assuming that civic allegiance rests on an ancient claim to divine right, or ethnic or religious identity, the American Founders began with equal rights and consent. As the Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” All men—not just all Americans—are equal, because all possess fundamental rights that exist by nature.
Legitimate government is instituted to secure these fundamental rights, deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed. “The mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs,” as Jefferson put it, “nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.” This new form of civic obligation creates not sovereigns and subjects, but equal citizens who rule in turn. The requirement of consent and the practice of self-government creates the conditions of citizenship.
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