Political parties have impacted immigration in both positive and negative ways. Most American political parties have opposed unrestricted immigration and when in power have passed laws to restrict immigration and, at times, make naturalization more difficult. In contrast, membership in political parties and active participation in politics have provided one of the means by which members of some immigrant groups–particularly Irish and Germans–have been able to preserve their culture while becoming upwardly mobile in American society.
Throughout American history, the stances of political parties toward immigrants have been affected by a number of factors, including the naturalization status of the immigrants, the sizes of particular immigrant populations, and the general attitudes of the American voting constituency toward immigrants. From the late eighteenth century through the greater part of the twentieth century, parties mirrored the American distrust of foreigners, their languages, their religions, their cultures, and their physical appearances. Through that long period of time, the American population in general viewed immigrants as threats to the maintenance of their religious and cultural traditions as well as their jobs.
The platforms of almost all political parties have advocated restrictions on immigration and often have proposed more stringent requirements for naturalization. However, from 1850 through the last years of the twentieth century, the
The nineteenth century witnessed massive immigration to the United States from Europe. Driven by famine, poor economic conditions, and political and religious persecution, immigrants arrived from Ireland, Germany, Italy, Poland, Belgium, and central and eastern European countries. Their customs and lifestyles were different from those of native-born Americans, and most of them did not speak English. American citizens, who tended to be isolationist and distrust anything or anyone not American, reacted negatively to the influx of immigrants. Of particular concern were the large numbers of
The other main tenent of their anti-immigrant stance was that immigrants should not be given jobs, that employers should only hire what the nativists called “true Americans.” In addition to restrictions on immigration, their campaign platform included proposals to increase the length of time immigrants had to live in the United States before becoming eligible to apply for naturalization. The American Party enjoyed considerable success in areas where large numbers of immigrants had settled. In 1854, the party gained control of the
In addition to wanting to offset the attacks of the
Between 1840 and 1920, a strong wave of anti-German feeling swept the United States. This was due in great part to the fact that the Germans, while assimilating in many ways, insisted upon maintaining their social culture and their language. They established
From the mid-nineteenth century until after World War II during the 1940’s, Asian immigrants were excluded from the political life of the United States by a variety of laws restricting their rights and even excluding them from citizenship. During and after World War II, these laws were repealed and other laws favoring Asian immigrants were passed. By 1962, Asian immigrants were playing an active role in American politics as members of both major parties and increasing numbers of them were elected to public offices.
The twentieth century was a time of significant change in both the attitudes of Americans and the role of the United States in world affairs. The isolationism that had been popular in the United States since its founding was no longer a sustainable position for the country after two world wars. International cooperation became important and changed attitudes toward immigrants. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s also helped to change public attitudes. The concept of an exclusively white Anglo-Saxon electorate was challenged and began to be replaced by one that included individuals of other racial and ethnic ancestries.
Political parties began to recognize and target the
Due in large part to changes in U.S. immigration laws during the second half of the twentieth century, the composition of the population of the United States has changed significantly. During the early years of the twenty-first century, one out of every five adults living in the United States had been born in a foreign country. Approximately one-third of the population was of nonwhite and non-European descent. The largest of these groups was the Mexican American community, which was by then becoming recognized by both major political parties as a significant and important sector of the voting population.
Aldrich, John H. Why Parties: The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. Good, comprehensive look at political parties, why they were formed, and how they have changed. Gerring, John. Party Ideologies in America, 1828-1996. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Excellent for information on the political parties and the changes they underwent during various historical periods. Discusses how party ideologies have affected attitudes toward immigrants. Higham, John. Strangers in the Land: Pattern of American Nativism, 1860 to 1925. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002. Excellent for understanding the anti-immigrant thinking of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the formation of political parties based on nativism. Junn, Jane, and Kerry L. Haynie, eds. New Race Politics in America: Understanding Minority and Immigrant Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Excellent coverage of how the American electorate has changed, with chapters on political party efforts to incorporate immigrants, and Asian and Mexican Americans, their political activities, and party attitudes toward them. McLaughlin, John. Irish Chicago. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2003. Good look at the Irish immigrant population in Chicago and their political activity, from mayors to ward politicians. Magaña, Lisa. Mexican Americans and the Politics of Diversity. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2005. Excellent for understanding how political issues affect Mexican Americans. How Mexican Americans impact political parties and reasons for interest of major political parties in this ethnic community. Tolzmann, Don Heinrich. The German-American Experience. New York: Humanity Books, 2000. Thorough study of the German immigrants in the United States, with sections on politics and nativism, German rural and urban communities, and German-speaking communities.