But as our friend Alvin Josephy reminded often, Europeans were met by real people living here. Columbus met, enslaved, and in some cases destroyed indigenous peoples of the Caribbean. The learned scribes in fifteenth century Spain did have to decide whether these were people with souls or some lesser form of life—they quickly opted for souls in need of conversion, and, as they had not brought European women along, the conquerors quickly developed relations with the indiginous people.
The Pilgrims who landed in the northeast of what we now call North America were met by people who grew corn, squash and beans, crops their ancestors had bred and transformed over centuries from Mesoamerican beginnings. In popular history, Indians—mis-named from the beginning, have been mis-understood as uniformly hunter gatherers, when in fact their languages, cultures, and economies were as diverse as were those of the Europeans of the time. And these crops and cultures were critical in many cases to the survival of the 15th and 16th century immigrants.
We learn from Charles Mann in 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus that Africans far outnumbered Europeans in early immigrations (though their journeys were not by choice of course). This does—or should—change the mental image anyone talking about a nation of immigrants carries.