Tired Huddled Masses Clichés Defy Reason

By John Vinson, November 5, 2020

As an advocate of reasonable restrictions on immigration, I’m in awe of the power of our opponents to short circuit thinking about immigration with their stable of clichés.

The king of them all is “We’re a nation of immigrants.”

When someone speaks this incantation, logic leaves, and thinking deteriorates into maudlin mush. Another cliché that often follows is the one about the “tired huddled masses.”

Against this tide of manipulated emotion, one struggles to ask a few questions. Is being a nation of immigrants the overriding definition of America, or is it just one of quite a few other descriptions?

For example, we can also say that America is a nation of citizens, dedicated to upholding their liberties.

Therefore we might consider that the wishes of huddled citizens (tired or rested) might trump those of foreigners who want to live here.

Another description of our nation is that it is one of wide-open spaces — of purple mountain majesties above vast fruited plains. Thus it would seem reasonable to balance our desire for breathing space with demands for immigration.

Saying we’re a “nation of immigrants” gives us no clue whatsoever as to how many immigrants we should admit or what kind.

Is it really appropriate to continue a policy of mass immigration into the 21st century that made better sense in the 19th century when we had a vast land to develop from sea to shining sea?

Along with considering the numbers, we might also ask if the diverse cultures we’re accepting will threaten our national unity. To raise this question almost always invites the cliché that “Diversity is our strength.” This mindless mantra usually paralyzes thought to the point that people fear to ask a seemingly obvious question.

Namely, is there a point where diversity will become a gross weakness by overwhelming our powers of assimilation?

The other day I personally got slapped by another cliché. A man called our office and informed me in a smug tone of upsmanship that “We’re all immigrants, you know.” I didn’t bother to reply. Experience has taught me that it is pointless to argue with logic-challenged people.

But the illogic of this cliché should be obvious. As a simple matter fact, most of us are not immigrants. And a lot of us are not even the descendants of immigrants. It was pioneers and settlers who laid the foundation of America.

Immigrants — people who move from one developed society to another — came latter.

Even if the majority of use are descended from immigrants, it simply doesn’t follow that we obliged to keep our door open to all who want to come in the future. That is like the employees of a company saying that, “Since almost all of us were once job applicants, our company must hire all future job applicants.”

A company doesn’t exist to hire people. It hires people to exist for its purposes. Immigration may serve the purposes of our country, but the purpose of our country isn’t immigration.

A list of pro-immigration clichés would not be complete without this one: “You don’t have the right to keep anyone out unless you’re an American Indian. This is stolen land.” Immigration advocates don’t perceive that this is actually a good argument against immigration. If this is indeed Indian land, then surely we shouldn’t be admitting any more foreign thieves.

A good insight came from a native American woman I once spoke to who supported immigration restriction. She observed, “We were invaded once, and once is enough.” Not wanting what amounts to invasion is simple common sense. But that sense is quite uncommon in minds addled with mind-numbing clichés.

John Vinson is president of the American Immigration Control Foundation.