A number of the politicians calling for the criminalization of illegal immigrants may not be aware that they and a good many of their constituents could themselves be direct descendants of people who did some illegal migrating of their own many years ago. Much of the territory of the United States was settled by people -- hundreds of thousands of them -- who disregarded the law by squatting on public lands.
Of course, they had a ready reason for doing so: Like today's immigrants, they were seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Indeed, many of the current residents of the states between the Appalachian and Rocky mountains can trace their roots directly to these onetime criminals -- whom we now call "pioneers."
Eastern politicians, many of whom dabbled in land speculation, condemned the squatters' defiance of federal law. They accused squatters of being "greedy, lawless land grabbers" who had no respect for law and order. In 1815 President James Madison issued a proclamation warning "uninformed or evil disposed persons . . . who have unlawfully taken possession of or made any settlement on the public lands . . . to remove therefrom" or face ejection by the Army and criminal prosecution. Henry Clay expressed a widely shared sentiment in 1838 when he dismissed the squatters as a "lawless rabble."
As The Genealogue says:
Perhaps if the government had built a wall to keep out these opportunistic scofflaws, they would have given up their dreams of better lives.
And of course, the nation would have been better for it.