The Prevailing Immigrant Question

20th century artist, Gillam F. Victor, poses a question that is still debated today in his cartoon from 1903: “The immigrant. Is he an acquisition or a detriment?”


This cartoon depicts a figure in the center, defined as “The Immigrant,” who represents the “1 million immigrants [that] came to the U.S. in [a few] months” in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Surrounding him are different Americans holding papers with conflicting opinions of the immigrant; some say he is a menace and carries disease, while others claim he gives cheap labor and more votes for politicians. The figure of Uncle Sam is depicted in this cartoon is holding a paper that claims the immigrant “is brawn and muscle for my country,” presumably asserting the formal reason to allow such a large influx of immigrants at the time–the government claims immigrants  bring manual labor to help build the country up in power and production.  This cartoon also brings up questions and attitudes that are still prevalent today. Americans carry some of the same opinions as those in the past, claiming immigrants are sources of cheap labor and more political votes, but is this the only value immigrants carry? Others claim that immigrants carry disease and are menaces, or disturbances to the country. No matter what the opinion, positive or negative, most Americans today call for reform regarding the immigration process. Amid constant political debate about immigration reform, it seems the controversial, underlying question remains with the government as well as the people: is the immigrant, or more broadly, immigration an acquisition or a detriment?

sources: (high resolution image, American Social History Project)


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