Roman conservatives fought against extending citizenship even more violently than their American counterparts, Randall Collins notes, but they still lost:
True, the conservatives had the law on their side; and they were right when they accused reformers and ethnic aliens of breaking the law. But the laws were made in their own interest by the conservatives, and their unwillingness to reform made the struggle turn outside legal channels.
The country which is the world center, where wealth and power is concentrated, is inevitably a magnet for those who are poorer and less privileged. Sometimes the magnet does it own expanding, just as the Roman alliances and conquests brought more territory under Roman control, and attracting even more people to Rome. The USA expanded in much the same way, from colonial times, through the Indian Wars, to the Spanish-American War (when we got Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines). Today’s struggle to secure the Mexican border is the same struggle that started in the 1830s, only then it was ethnic Anglo-Americans who settled on Texas land that the Mexican revolution had inherited from the Spanish empire. All the borders that we are militarizing now against illegal aliens — from Texas and the Southwest to California — were part of the peace treaty that ended the Mexican-American war in 1846, including the Rocky Mountains states on up to Oregon. It was the biggest land conquest in our history; but the geography is the same and people are still moving across it.
A wealthy and powerful country attracts outsiders not only for economic reasons, but because of its prestige. Its lifestyle becomes dominant in the world, setting the standards others imitate, and especially when its citizens have the most rights. Its magnetic attraction for outsiders operates whether peacefully or in the aftermath of its conquests. It has been the same with the other great colonial empires, England and France, both of whose homelands became flooded with immigrants from their former colonies.
Bottom line: as long as the USA is rich and dominant, immigrants will keep on coming, by legal means or illegal.
And the historical lesson is there is nothing that can be done to stop it. Nothing humane, at any rate; doggedly conservative states that stake their identity upon ethnic purity become the nastiest of regimes; when they succeed, it is only through the moral outrages of ethnic cleansing and genocide. America is unlikely to go that route, above all because we have already gone through so much ethnic assimilation in the past so that universalism has become one of our celebrated values.
The Roman comparison shows a silver lining. Despite their violent struggles over citizenship, the aftermath was surprising rapid in putting the issue behind them. Within a generation after full citizenship was granted, ethnic divisions were no longer important for Romans. If we can get to the same resolution, the time-table of our future should be about the same.
And with those struggles behind it, Rome was finally able to flourish. Right?