Claim: Joe Biden claimed Sunday night the United States is a “nation of immigrants.”
“Look, we are a nation of immigrants,” Biden said during his CNN debate against Bernie Sanders. He continued:
Our future rests upon the Latino community being fully integrated. Twenty-four out of every 100 children in school today from kindergarten through high school is a Latino … We should be embracing, bringing them in, just like what happened with the Irish immigrants after the famine, just what happened with the Italians, et cetera. We have been through this before. Xenophobia is a disease.
Verdict: False. Roughly 86 percent of people in the United States are native-born citizens and their native-born children. That 86 percent share means that six out of seven residents in the United States are native-born Americans. Only one in seven people in the United States are either legal immigrants or illegal migrants.
The United States’ population is roughly 329.4 million.
“Drawing on the most authoritative, current data available about the 44.7 million immigrants residing in the United States as of 2018,” said a February 2020 report by the pro-migration Migration Policy Institute.
“Today, more than 40 million people living in the U.S. were born in another country,” said a June 2019 report by the Pew Research Center.
In 2017, the U.S. population included 278.8 million native-born citizens, 20.7 million “naturalized citizens,” 13.1 million resident aliens or “legal noncitizens,” and 11.3 million “unauthorized immigrants,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The United States is a “Nation of Immigrants” claim was promoted in the late 1950s by then-Sen. John Kennedy.
In October 2018, Breitbart reported Rep. Joe Kenndy’s description of the claim:
Few felt it as deeply as President John F. Kennedy. In his 1964 book A Nation of Immigrants, recently re-released, my great-uncle outlines the compelling case for immigration, in economic, moral, and global terms. “The abundant resources of this land provided the foundation for a great nation,” he writes. “But only people could make the opportunity a reality. Immigration provided the human resources.”
A February 2018 report in the New York Times said that claim is only a “phrase”: “Immigrant advocates today invoke the phrase to remind the country that most Americans have an ancestor who was once a newcomer to the United States.” The article said:
Published posthumously, Kennedy’s “A Nation of Immigrants” highlighted the contribution of immigrants when the country was engulfed in a debate over the direction of its immigration policy.
The phrase appears at least as far back as 1874, in an editorial published in The Daily State Journal of Alexandria, which praised a bill passed by the Virginia Senate appropriating $15,000 to encourage European immigration. “We are a nation of immigrants and immigrants’ children,” it said.
But the “Nation of Immigrants” claim is commonplace, even though it implies that immigrants’ are more American than their native-born descendants.
“I’m proud to be among the first to greet you as ‘My fellow Americans’… We can never say it often or loudly enough: Immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America,” former President Barack Obama claimed at December 2015 naturalization ceremony, while standing under a giant mural of the nation’s Founding Fathers.
“We will make America more American by passing – protecting our patriotic, courageous Dreamers!” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi said as she regained the speakership of the House in January 2019.
A progressive columnist at the New York Times declared in June 2017:
So-called real Americans are screwing up America. Maybe they should leave, so that we can replace them with new and better ones: newcomers who are more appreciative of what the United States has to offer, more ambitious for themselves and their children, and more willing to sacrifice for the future. In other words, just the kind of people we used to be — when “we” had just come off the boat…
I’m the child of immigrants and grew up abroad, I have always thought of the United States as a country that belongs first to its newcomers — the people who strain hardest to become a part of it because they realize that it’s precious; and who do the most to remake it so that our ideas, and our appeal, may stay fresh.
“The U.S. is back to being a nation of immigrants,” said an August 2018 report at Axios.com:
The share of the U.S. population made up by immigrants has returned to the levels at the turn of the 20th century — although the makeup of today’s immigrant population looks very different.
Why it matters: As we saw a century ago, and are witnessing again now, immigration brings needed labor and economic benefits, but is often met with backlash from those who fear the America they know is slipping away.