Presidential Perspectives on Immigration


George Washington


Ah, Presidents’ Day! A time of patriotic celebration when we remember U.S. presidents past and present, as well as the great political achievements of their times—like passing the 1971 Uniform Monday Holiday act, which established Presidents’ Day as part of a three-day weekend.

Originally, though, Presidents’ Day was established in recognition of America’s first president, George Washington, who was born on February 22. During his tenure as the nation’s first leader, Washington built the foundation for many of our current national policies, including immigration.

Today, we still strive to maintain the dream of Washington’s America, an America built by immigrants. As Washington wrote, “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respected Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.”

Since Washington, many U.S. presidents have reaffirmed this sentiment—that immigration is an essential part of America’s identity. Here are just a few examples:


“Born in other countries, yet believing you could be happy in this, our laws acknowledge, as they should do, your right to join us in society, conforming, as I doubt not you will do, to our established rules. That these rules shall be as equal as prudential considerations will admit, will certainly be the aim of our legislatures, general and particular.”

–       Thomas Jefferson


“When [immigrants] look through that old Declaration of Independence, they find that those old men say that ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’; and then they feel that that moral sentiment, taught in that day, evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh, of the men who wrote that Declaration; and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.”

–       Abraham Lincoln


“If some of us have forgotten what America believed in, you [new immigrants], at any rate, imported in your own hearts a renewal of the belief. That is the reason that I, for one, make you welcome. …You dreamed dreams of what America was to be, and I hope you brought the dreams with you. No man that does not see visions will ever realize any high hope or undertake any high enterprise. Just because you brought dreams with you, America is more likely to realize dreams such as you brought.”

–       Woodrow Wilson


“Remember, remember always, that all of us … are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”

–       Franklin D. Roosevelt


“Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life,”

–       John F. Kennedy


“Nearly all Americans have ancestors who braved the oceans—liberty-loving risk takers in search of an ideal. …Immigration is not just a link to America’s past; it’s also a bridge to America’s future.”

–       George W. Bush


“Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams—to study, invent, and contribute to our culture—they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone.”

–       Barack Obama

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…