An 1896 lament about Italians and Eastern Europeans sounds eerily familiar today
In 1896, Ellis Island was just four years old, but already more than 1 million immigrants had entered the United States through its port. In the coming years, the center would process 12 million people seeking a new home in America -- 69 percent of whom were from Eastern, Central, or Southern Europe. The demographics of the country were changing, much to the fear of some.
In an essay titled "Restriction of Immigration," Atlantic author Francis A. Walker took issue with the "vast throngs of ignorant and brutalized peasantry" from Europe immigrating to America. His argument: increasing foreign-born populations would put a "hopeless burden on our country," and take work away from native-born citizens. He writes:
No longer it is a matter of course that that ever industrious and temperate man can find work in the United States...When the country was flooded with ignorant and unskilled foreigners, who could do nothing but the lowest kind of labor, Americans instinctively shrank from the contact and the competition thus offered to them. So long as manual labor, in whatever field, was to be done by all, each in his place, there was no revolt at it; but when working on railroads and canals became the sign of a want of education and of a low social condition, our own people gave it up, and left it to those who were able to do that, and nothing better.