This was the situation: the new immigrants to Texas were becoming quite a problem. They were coming across the river in droves. Some were legal and some were undocumented. Some were living on land they had legally acquired and some were squatters, living on land that belonged to others. The legal immigrants were being followed by family members who were arriving without proper papers. The government was frustrated and trying desperately to come up with a solution.
Many were good people, hard workers. But as a group, they would mostly keep to themselves. They wouldn’t assimilate. They wouldn’t acculturate. They refused to learn the language. Most were of a different religion from that which was most common in their new country.
There was talk of posting the military all along the river. The borders and immigration laws needed to be enforced. The government passed a law prohibiting all new immigration to Texas from the neighboring republic.
The military was in fact sent to ports of entry to turn back those without proper documents, and though the trend slowed, illegal immigration continued at a worrisome pace.
Sound familiar? These issues were being discussed in Texas almost 200 years ago.
The years I’m talking about here were the 1820’s and early 1830’s, before the battle of the Alamo, before the battle of San Jacinto.
The immigrants were not Mexican, but rather, Anglo Texans coming in from Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and other southern states. The river the immigrants were crossing was not the Rio Grande, but the Sabine, the border between Texas and Louisiana. The concerned government was not in Austin but in Mexico City. Texas, of course, belonged to Mexico at the time. The military they wanted to put on the eastern border was the Mexican Army. They didn’t do it, but they did place small military contingents at ports of entry along the coast.
The language the immigrants would not learn was Spanish. That was part of the deal. If they got cheap land, they agreed to become Mexican citizens and learn Spanish. Most did not.
The religion they would not embrace was Catholicism, even though that was part of the deal, too. As Mexican citizens, they were supposed to become Catholic. Most did not. Priests lived among them, but there was little effort to enforce that requirement. Culture and religion, after all, are far better anchored than laws.
It is surprising to see how trends, in some ways, have reversed themselves over a couple of centuries. I’m not interested in getting into the high weeds of politics here. I’ll leave the cautionary tales to others. But I do find this a good illustration of a historical adage coined by Twain and affirmed by Churchill:
“History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”