People call the United States a “nation of immigrants”. It’s meant to say that we have no right to turn away immigrants who simply happened to arrive later than us. This assertion is false, and explaining how it is false should go some way to showing why we have our current attitudes.
An immigrant arrives in an established country and tries to make a new life within that country. They integrate to some extent — possibly forming their own enclaves within existing cities, possibly not; possibly keeping their own language alive and vibrant, possibly abandoning it within a couple generations. They work within the existing system, suborning themselves to it as residents, typically working toward citizenship.
In the history of Europeans in the Americas, this has happened at least once. With the failed colony of Roanoke, the colonists integrated into one of the neighboring nations. But as for the rest…
We call it the United States of America, not Ohwʌ́tsyaˀatyaˀtaloˀloke or ᐯᔭᑰᐢᑳᐣ. We have traditions taken almost entirely from Europe. We have governments that inherited from European colonial governments, which derived their traditions and authority from the various monarchies of Europe. We didn’t integrate; we replaced.
We murdered people for not dying on their own the moment we decided we wanted their land. We outlawed their languages and religions, for those few we didn’t kill.
How did we justify it? By saying that they were inferior, inhuman. We weren’t murdering them any more than we murdered bison. Since they weren’t humans, the land they lived on was unclaimed and open for colonization, killing any dangerous animals along the way.
This attitude was somewhat inconsistently followed. We had enough veneer of respect for the preexisting nations that we made treaties with them at times. We of course violated these treaties as soon as it served our purposes because the respect was just a veneer.
Note what we didn’t do. We didn’t try to join any existing nations. We tried to destroy them instead. Invasion after invasion. Genocide after genocide.
And we brought slavery, too. Yet more people who were falsely marked subhuman, who we could murder or work to death with impunity.
We were not immigrants. We were, or so we deceived ourselves to believe, the only humans in a land of savage beasts. Those who were not like us were savage beasts. And immigrants — well, they certainly weren’t like us. We couldn’t call them savages because the countries we came from had long histories with them. Italians were from the same country where many popes and emperors that we revered came from. Irish people were Catholics, and there were a number of Catholics already among us — and besides, we can’t treat Catholics, who are mere heretics, the same as godless heathens. Nor could we use their skin color to quickly categorize them as subhuman slaves.
But that doesn’t mean we had to support them or be nice. We were the nation of conquering heroes. They were just Johnny-come-latelies trying to ride on our coattails. We seized this country by force, and they had no part in it. Nevermind that we had no right to the land. We arrived, we slaughtered for it, and that’s enough to secure our right. They just bought a ticket on a boat.
And we haven’t even touched on the insular nature of each colony’s founding. Plymouth was intended for a particular Protestant sect. Catholics had no place there, and I doubt they even considered the possibility that they could have a Mohametan as a neighbor! If a Muslim tried to move in as a peaceful and productive member of the colony, well, they could leave on foot or in a bag as best pleased them.
So formed the colonies, and so America expanded. But what about the nation’s formation? Well, that was a political thing. We were forced together to oppose a greater foe. And at first we tried to be as minimally connected as possible, and we eventually found that we’d gone too minimal and had to join together a bit more. That even with a much closer common culture. We could just barely tolerate other people with almost identical backgrounds when our political independence depended on it.
Tolerating immigrants is far beyond those initial attitudes. It’s downright un-American.