Miss Liberty Still Beckons

To hear some critics of American immigration policy tell it, the nation has become racist, nativist and exclusionist. They say the Statute of Liberty no longer beckons. They say we are turning our back on huddled masses yearning to breathe free. In fact, America has never in all its history been more receptive to immigrants and less biased along racial or ethnic lines. Consider some figures:

* There was more legal immigration to the United States in the decade of the 1980s than in any previous decade but one -- 1901-1910.


* The 7.3 million legal immigrants of the Eighties were more than the total for the 1920s, '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s combined.

* Prior to a rewriting of the immigration laws in 1965, the overwhelming majority of legal immigrants to the U.S. were Europeans. In the 1970s and '80s, more than twice as many legal immigrants came here from Latin American countries than came from European countries, and nearly three times as many Asians legally immigrated here as did Europeans.


* Black immigration has been relatively small because the law's "immediate family" preferences favored Asians and Latin Americans, but 1990 changes in the law which give non-family criteria slightly greater weight may change that.

* Predominantly black Jamaica already sends a larger percentage of its population here as legal immigrants than does any other nation. Haiti and the Dominican Republic are near the top on this measurement of immigration.

* In 1992, the first year in which the 1990 changes in the law were fully in effect, more than 800,000 legal immigrants came to the United States. Immigration experts predict that this, the last decade of the century, will exceed the totals of the record-setting first decade of the century.

* In 1992, the top 15 countries of origin for legal immigrants were, in order, Mexico, Vietnam, the Philippines, the former Soviet Union, the Dominican Republic, China, India, Poland, El Salvador, the United Kingdom, Korea, Jamaica, Taiwan, Canada and Iran.

* All this comes at a time in history when other nations are less receptive to immigrants, less willing to grant them citizenship and full rights. Current U.S. immigration numbers (legal only) exceed the total into all other nations combined.

So Miss Liberty still lifts her lamps to immigrants. They are still welcome. Whether you like to think of the nation's diversity as a melting pot or a mosaic or a stew, the fact is that new "ingredients" for the mix are more varied than ever.