The contrast between President John F Kennedy's pro-immigrant welcome and Donald Trump's anti-immigrant wall could not be sharper.
What would John F Kennedy make of 2018 and the anti-immigrant America First rhetoric of the Trump administration, or our current president's reference to the 'shithole countries' that predominantly immigrants of color hail from?
We don't have to look far to find out. Speaking at an ADL awards ceremony in Washington in January, 1963, President John F. Kennedy gave a rousing speech in support of immigrants from all nations.
“We are the descendants of 40 million people who left other countries to come here to the United States to build a new life, to make a new opportunity for themselves and their children,” he said.
President Kennedy made it clear that night in 1963 that he made no distinction between countries like Norway or Haiti. To him every immigrant who came here on good faith to make a new life for themselves was welcome to.
“I think it is not a burden but a privilege to have the chance in 1963 to share that great concept among all of our people,” Kennedy said at the ADL ceremony . “To make this as it was for them a new world, a new world for us and for all who look to us. That's what the ADL has stood for for 50 years, that's what this country has stood for for 200 years, and that's what this country will continue to stand for.”
But Kennedy's welcome contrasts starkly with Trump's exclusion. This week the Trump administration announced their intention to cut immigration to the United States by 50 percent, particularly curtailing the influx of non-white immigrants, whilst also asking for $25 billion to pay for the border wall he once assured us Mexico would pay for.
When the administration announced this week it would support a 10 to 12 year pathway to citizenship for DREAMers in exchange for a 50 precent reduction in legal immigration in the years to come, they were immediately accused of holding immigrants hostage. It was certainly not the kind of move that Kennedy would ever have countenanced.
In 1958, while he was still a senator, Kennedy wrote A Nation Of Immigrants, a short history of immigration to America from the Colonial period onwards. What strikes the reader now is just how little the debate has moved on in the six decades since Kennedy took up his pen.
Written in support of a push for immigration reform in 1963, Kennedy reminds his critics that all Americans are immigrants and that excluding certain demographics from coming here is nothing more than racism.
In the pamphlet Kennedy also reflects on the importance of immigration to the country's history, and he included new proposals to liberalize American immigration law.
True to his word after becoming president Kennedy called on Congress to initiate reform and he began to revise his original pamphlet for further publication.
In August 1963, excerpts of A Nation Of Immigrants were published in the New York Times Magazine. Kennedy was assassinated before he could complete the revision, but the book was posthumously published in 1964 with an introduction by his brother, the then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.