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History Affects Immigration Reform, Professor Says

A Nation of Immigrants In the new book "A Nation of Immigrants," Georgetown professor Susan F. Martin describes three models of immigration from the 17th and 18th centuries that still exist today in the United States.

February 18, 2011 – The history of the British colonies in the United States helps explain why immigration reform is so hard to achieve today, professor Susan F. Martin says in her new book, A Nation of Immigrants (Cambridge University Press).

Martin, director of Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of International Migration, explains in the book that three different models of immigration in place in the 17th and 18th centuries still exist in our society today.

Rose-Colored Glasses

“Historically, Americans have seen their own immigrant forebears through rose-colored glasses while raising serious concerns about the contributions of current immigrants and the extent to which they will assimilate our values, language, and experiences,” she writes in the book.

Martin argues that this paradox is one of the main reasons why the past three Congresses have failed to address the immigration challenges that currently face the nation.

“Immigration reform has always been a difficult issue, requiring years of debate before any comprehensive changes are adopted,” she says.

Three Models

The Colony of Virginia in British America was largely equated with the arrival of laborers who had few rights, she writes in the book.

And while the Massachusetts colony welcomed those who shared the specific moral and religious views of the founders, it excluded those who did not.

But the Pennsylvania colony valued pluralism and became the most diverse in terms of religion, language and culture.

That’s the model the U.S. ought to return to, Martin says.

Including Newcomers

Given the highly controversial nature and heated political debate about U.S. immigration reform, Martin hopes her book will provide a “thoughtful, well-reasoned analysis that will be valuable to both academic and policy audiences.”

She also hopes lawmakers will see the philosophy of the Pennsylvania colony, where legal immigrants were afforded full membership in society, as a goal.

“The true power of the American dream is that it is inclusive of newcomers,” she writes. “The United States has benefited the most from immigration when its policies underscored the equality and rights of immigrants and treated newcomers as presumptive citizens.”

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