Yes, I am an immigrant and I have my papers. I guess that makes me a "documented immigrant". Having arrived here at a young age - with papers - about 50 years ago, there was not much I understood about the legalities of these matters, but it was not difficult to understand how one was perceived by others. It is part of human nature. Although I had my moments of uneasiness as a new arrival, I assimilated well into the mainstream society, making long lasting friendships and work relationships with people from all backgrounds, races, and ethnic backgrounds. Perhaps, my arrival did not coincide with a big wave of immigrants settling in the same area at the same time, so I didn't pose a threat. Others might not be so fortunate. Throughout the history of this land (even before it was the United States), most immigrants have posed a threat where they have settled.
According to Freedman (2007) the first European newcomers to what we call the American continent today were the Vikings. Interestingly enough, Freedman states that these first Europeans eventually left their settlements because they were not welcomed by the indigenous population, who at some point or another, thousands of years before, had also immigrated to these lands. From the late 15th century, the American territories from north to south - and islands alike - were being explored, settled, and colonized by Europeans. Most of these movements of people were undertaken with force and violence. Those who were here first, the Native Americans, fought fearlessly to keep their land. However, this fight was in vain because the Native Americans ended up in reservations marginalized from those who came after them. The Native Americans lost what had once been theirs.
These lands have witnessed forced territorial shifts as part of a well orchestrated conquest, which later led to a migratory process of families and people pursuing a better life, such as the Pilgrims in Plymouth. For whatever reason, all movements of people have a motive for leaving behind their point of departure. Putting aside the constant bickering that went on among the English, the French, the Spanish, and even the Dutch over territories in what is called the United States today, once the land was conquered by those primarily of Anglo descent and new people began to move in from Europe, these heterogeneous European groups would clash with each other especially with the group that was last to arrive. People have always been suspicious of those who have arrived later.
The English were followed by the Germans and Irish with many of these groups settling in New York City and other Midwestern and northeastern cities. Later periods brought eastern and southern Europeans who were in very precarious economic conditions. Regarding these poor European immigrants, Howell and Moore (2010) noted, "Anglo native-born Americans discriminated against these immigrants as well. Conflict was therefore imminent, and gangs grew in such environments" (p. 1). In other words, because of anti-immigrant sentiments, eventually gangs were formed to protect their interests and fight those who were of a different ethnic group, creating a sort of pecking order as new immigrant groups arrived. Later on, when Asian and Latino immigrants entered the scene, they also formed gangs to survive the combative nature of those who had been here first.
With a sharp contrast, the new Ellis Island is the sizeable Mexican-American border, a porous and somewhat uncontrollable major point of entry to this country. Nonetheless, it is important to note that not all immigrants who come through the Mexican-American border are Mexicans or from another Latin American country as some may believe. If there is a great Mexican presence, let's not forget the Alamo or Manifest Destiny, a philosophy that found a way to defeat the southwestern territories, belonging to Mexico first and then becoming a part of the United States.
Considering the somewhat anarchic character of this border, anyone who has an inclination to reach the other side and who knows about the illicit border crossing services offered or the difficulties involved in competently supervising the border will give it a try. As a result, the United States finds itself with an approximate number of 11 million undocumented immigrants. With such a great number, many documented people here may have family members who fall within this undocumented group, most of whom are very hard-working decent individuals who might be escaping violence or some other sort of misery in their country of origin. Because law and order should prevail, the border has earned the reputation of a place of contention not only because of the dysfunction it represents but also because of the (relatively few by comparison) number of dangerous criminals who find a way to come across.
Being an immigrant is a difficult process of adjustment from various perspectives no matter the age. However, being an immigrant without papers can certainly compound the stress this process brings. Papers or not, the welcome is not always warm, making some feel out of place and unwanted. As this rainbow of people unfolds cutting across the border, many of those who were born here and who perhaps can trace their ancestors to the Mayflower simply react in the same manner that others have done in the past. They view immigrants with circumspection. Following an established pattern, immigration has always been a tug of war between the ones who were here first and the ones who came after. Possibly, those who have been here fear that the force brought on by those who come after might be stronger than the prevailing one. History may repeat itself.
Freedman, R. (2007). Who was first? Discovering the Americas. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Howell, J.C. & Moore, J. P. (2010, May). History of Street Gangs in the United States. National Gang Center Bulletin, 4. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgangcenter.gov/content/documents/history-of-street-gangs.pdf