With more than 65 million people forcibly displaced from their homes, today the world faces the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Recent executive orders seek to suspend refugee resettlement and temporarily bar travel for people from six majority Muslim countries. Anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies and rhetoric have both reached a fever pitch.
It is in that context—on the occasion of President John F. Kennedy’s centennial—that we turn back to A Nation of Immigrants, the remarkable manuscript then-Senator Kennedy penned in 1958. The piece is as relevant today as the day it was published.
Then, as now, bigotry, xenophobia, and nativism polluted the immigration debate. An ugly race-based national origin quota system that heavily favored white immigrants from Northern Europe made it almost impossible for immigrants from Africa, Asia, Latin America and other parts of the world to receive a visa. But JFK had a vision of a better immigration system—one that would welcome people from around the world, reunite families, and honor our values as a nation of immigrants.
We need that same kind of vision today. Recognizing the enumerable and immeasurable contributions that immigrants from all around the world have made to America, we must strive once more for an immigration system that serves as a beacon of hope for people around the world.