Free Immigration Is a Core American Value

“One of the grievances behind the Declaration of Independence itself centered on immigration. King George III, the Declaration charged, had “endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither.” Volokh Conspiracy contributor Ilya Somin has noted this complaint “was aimed at a series of royal orders” that, among other things, “forbade the colonies from naturalizing aliens” and passing laws to promote migration. The regulations directly contributed to “the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States,” the Declaration explained.
No wonder—in the colonial days, immigration was both a boon to the young America and a headache for the distant Britain. In 1700, the British Parliament “limited the colonies’ ability to grant naturalization and other group rights because it believed that colonial naturalization policies weakened English citizens’ trading positions,” according to a 2021 Cato Institute paper. After a period of liberalization, Britain cracked down on certain colonial settlement and naturalization authorities. By the beginning of the Revolutionary War, about 2.2 million people were living in the colonies—”much of that growth fueled by the 346,000 European immigrants and their descendants,” the Cato paper noted.

The Founding Fathers turned to questions of citizenship and naturalization soon after the Revolution was won. During the Constitutional Convention of 1787, delegates worried that overly harsh barriers to citizenship could prevent deserving immigrants from coming to the nation. Gouverneur Morris had proposed an amendment that would require someone to have been a citizen for 14 years before being able to serve as a senator.

It sparked a vigorous debate: James Madison said he “could never agree” to the amendment since it would “give a tincture of illiberality to the Constitution” and “discourage the most desirable class of people from emigrating to the U.S.” James Wilson, himself a nonnative, lamented that he might be “incapacitated from holding a place under the very Constitution which he had shared in the trust of making.” The delegates eventually adopted a nine-year minimum as their standard.”

Are Americans Unhappy?

“The economic fallout from the pandemic and attendant shutdowns and disruptions has widened a divide between low-wage workers — who have been forced to keep working in person, leaving them vulnerable to the virus and financial troubles — and high-wage workers. Behind all of this, climate change has caused more flooding in Gulf Coast states, wildfires in the West and other problems worldwide. Now, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine feels even more destabilizing.
So given all of this, how are Americans doing?

The answer is, surprisingly, kind of OK. People in general are resilient and optimistic and can find ways to thrive even in the worst of times. But that doesn’t mean that Americans are optimistic about the direction of the country. This was hinted at in a January Gallup poll in which a full 85 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with their own lives, while only 17 percent were satisfied with the direction of the country. That disconnect, though, isn’t unusual. Since Gallup began asking that question in the 1980s, the share of Americans who say they’re “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with their personal lives has been fairly stable, ranging anywhere from 73 percent to 90 percent, while satisfaction in the direction of the country has generally been lower and less stable.”