What is Nativism?

Pamela Pleasant

The term "nativism" refers to a strong preference for the inhabitants of a country or region and an opposition to immigration into that area. Nativism might arise for ethnic, religious, cultural or racial reasons. In many cases, it arises out of fear that the immigrants will reduce the social, economic, political or cultural power or status of the previous inhabitants in an area or change the composition of the area's population and its culture.

Nativism led to the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War.
Nativism led to the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War.

Reasons for Nativism

There are many reasons why nativists might be opposed to immigration. For example, they might claim that the immigrants will take jobs away from established residents or overburden the government if they are unable to provide for themselves. Other nativists might say that the culture of the area will be changed or patriotism diminished. Some nativists might decry the immigrants' refusal to or inability to learn the local language, and others might argue that too much immigration will lead to overpopulation. Even if they don't consider themselves to be nativists, many people hold certain viewpoints that could be said to be nativist, at least to some degree.

Some right-wing politicians might espouse nativist viewpoints.
Some right-wing politicians might espouse nativist viewpoints.

Influence on Government Policies

Many countries and regions have adopted policies and laws that have been influenced by nativism. Immigration limits are a common example. Other examples include the establishment of official languages and residency or citizenship requirements to qualify for certain government benefits.

At times, especially during times of war, countries will restrict the rights of certain immigrants. For example, a country that is at war with another might force immigrants from that country to live in specific areas or in internment camps. The immigrants might lose their voting rights or, in some cases, might be forced to leave the country.

Social Ramifications

Even when government policies are not influenced by nativism, anti-immigration sentiments among the people can result in discrimination against immigrants. They might have difficulty finding jobs or housing, for example. Extreme nativism might result in violence or other crimes against immigrants. Less severe cases might result in a lack of acceptance or integration into a society.

Historical Examples

Examples of nativism can be seen through history, such as in the United States in the 1800s and early 1900s. During this time of heavy immigration, many Americans were opposed to the immigration of groups such as Germans, Catholics and Chinese people. More recently, opposition to illegal immigration from Mexico has been prevalent among some Americans. In Europe, citizens of numerous countries have been fearful of or opposed to immigration for various reasons. Examples of opposition to immigration from China or Japan also can be found in several countries.

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How did nativism influence the law?

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