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The refugees Americans have fought against over 200 years

The debate over whether the U.S. should or could limit the arrival of Syrian refugees to the U.S. has become increasingly partisan in the last week.

On Monday, President Obama remarked during a press conference in Turkey that "slamming the door shut" on those seeking refuge, or screening them based on their religion, would be "shameful." "When individuals say we should have religious tests, and only Christians, proven Christians, should be allowed, that’s offensive and contrary to American values," he said.

Republican rhetoric has been quite different, emphasizing a potential national security risk from migrants. Donald Trump said Syrian refugees could be "the greatest Trojan horse of all time," and urged banning them all. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush was more cautious, saying, "We all have sympathies for people who have been uprooted. But we have a duty to protect our country as well."

For students of history, this conversation may sound familiar. The debate between welcoming migrants and protecting the U.S. from perceived external threats is one that has pervaded our history. It's a debate that, or one time or another, has determined the fortunes of practically every ethnic group in America, as the photos below show. America is a nation of immigrants and refugees, but also a nation that has, on countless occasions, turned immigrants and refugees away.

The UN defines a refugee as someone who must leave the country of his nationality for fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, or political opinion. But in the popular sense of the word, a refugee is simply someone who must leave their country in order to save their life or preserve their freedom, whether due to political or religious persecution, war or a natural disaster.

Perhaps the massive influx of Irish migrants to the U.S. in the mid-19th Century, which provoked one of the most significant anti-immigrant movements in American history, should be thought of as refugees as well.

At the time, Irish certainly had reason to fear for their lives. In the mid-19th Century, Ireland was experiencing a deadly potato famine, the horror of which is hard to comprehend. Ireland's population today is still substantially lower than it was 150 years ago. Two million people fled a country wracked by famine and abject poverty, where one million people ultimately died. This drawing shows Irish emigrants massed at Queenstown, Ireland, waiting for passage to New York:

This influx of immigrants sparked an anti-Catholic and anti-foreign backlash that branded itself the Know-Nothing Party, a movement that sought to close America off from what they termed “foreign paupers.” The party shared a broad belief that the American nationality could be destroyed by an influx of immigrants, especially those loyal to the Pope. The party rebranded itself as the American Party in 1855, but was eventually overwhelmed by the issue of slavery.

Anti-immigrant sentiment rose again in the late 19th Century on the East Coast with the arrival of large numbers of Italian immigrants, who came to work as unskilled laborers in the new industries that were popping up in U.S. cities.

Others fled natural disasters, like this group of Italian immigrants who came to America in 1909, after an earthquake:

The Mexican revolution also began in 1910, leading to the flow of one million Mexicans into the U.S. over the next two decades:

In the late 1930s, Americans were also reluctant to welcome Jewish refugees of the brewing Second World War.

As the Post's Petula Dvorak writes, the U.S. turned away Jewish children who were desperate to escape the Nazis. In one tragic case, officials in Florida turned away a boat called the SS St. Louis. The boat returned to Europe, where about a quarter of the 908 Jewish refugees aboard were ultimately killed in Nazi death camps.

More recent waves of refugees coming to the U.S. have also drawn opposition. The photos from the U.S. National Archive below show Vietnamese, Cuban, and Haitian refugees:

The U.S. typically diverted refugees from Cuba and Haiti to camps at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, housing tens of thousands of refugees while reviewing their applications.

Others, like these Kurdish children in the 1990s, were sent to Guam, where they endured lengthy waits while their applications were reviewed:

During many of these crises, public opinion over whether to accept refugees was mixed. As data from Pew Research shows, in the Hungarian, Indochinese and Cuban refugees crises of past decades, the majority of Americans believed we should not accept refugees; only in the 1999 Kosovo conflict did most Americans support welcoming refugees to the U.S.

You might also like: 

-What America’s immigrants looked like when they arrived on Ellis Island

-The big myth about refugees

-What Americans thought of Jewish refugees on the eve of World War II

-Before people start invoking Japanese American internment, they should remember what it was like

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