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Sure we were, at least when it came to white immigrants. From our founding until 1904 we didn’t even patrol our borders. and it was understood that, again for white immigrants, the simple formula of time + continual residency + obeying the law = automatic citizenship. Most of our founders are on record stating that this policy was the most pragmatic way to deal with what we now call “illegal” immigration. The amount of time required to be naturalized varied over the years, but if a white immigrant played by the rules they had a clear path to citizenship regardless of how they got here. Of course we have a long history of selectively excluding certain groups from this arrangement based on their race, ethnicity, religion and nation of origin, but this notion that “illegal immigrants must be deported on the sole grounds that they came here illegally” is a relatively new development.

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