Once upon a time, America welcomed the world to her shores. Then, a group of bad people, playing to the fears of the country’s prejudiced white Protestant masses, closed the nation’s doors. Luckily, enlightened reformers, alongside the plucky children of maligned immigrants, overcame the bigots and restored America’s ideals. But the nasty people are always waiting to pounce, so we have to remain on guard against these dark forces. We are a nation of immigrants, so we must welcome the stranger the same way our ancestors were welcomed. It is the duty of every enlightened American to let in anyone who wants to come—whether through the front door or, if that’s not open, through the back.

This cosmopolitan morality tale has been circulating for over 50 years. A less ideological version of it goes back even further—to Israel Zangwill, Herman Melville, Alexis de Tocqueville, and William Penn. In the 1960s, among the American upper classes, it became almost morally compulsory to think of America in these terms. Jia Lynn Yang’s One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle Over American Immigration, 1924–1965 offers a lively retelling of the “borderless America” narrative, backed by original archival research. Yang is a highly decorated journalist—a deputy editor at the New York Times and a member of the Washington Post team

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