“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
The New Collossus, a sonnet by Emma Lazarus
These words have welcomed immigrants to the United states since 1903. They were, in effect, our immigration policy. While the thoughts are still part of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, they no longer ring true. A strong xenophobic movement has developed in our country that would replace Lazarus’ compassionate words with a giant “Keep Out” sign. Is that what we want? Is that what we stand for? Will we be cowed by a few terrorists and criminals into erecting a legal fence around our land that would keep out the very people we need to maintain and continue our creativity and our leadership? The tired and poor of old became the energetic and self sufficient. They were nation builders and we need more like them. Their legacy must be refreshed and we can only do that if Lady Liberty says, “Welcome,” instead of “Keep out.”
Look closely at the following list of immigrants. Every one of them was born in a foreign country, emigrated to the United States and gained citizenship. They are part of the fabric of who we are. They are as important to our heritage, culture and position in the world as anyone else in American history and this is just a short list. Some of them are world famous, others you may not recognize but all of them are equally important.
- Albert Einstein: The greatest physicist of the twentieth century. In 1905 he published five papers, including the “Special theory of Relativity” which considered motion and the speed of light. In 1916 he published his “General Theory of Relativity,” a concept of a curved universe and its affect on light. In 1922 he won the Nobel Prize for Physics.
- Ieoh Ming Pei: One of America’s most famous architects. Pei’s designs are famous for their geometric patterns and their characteristic use of glass. Among his many building designs are the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- Madeleine Albright: the former Secretary of State received her doctorate from Columbia University’s Department of Public Law and Government. She served as a staff member on the National Security Council, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies, a professor at Georgetown University, President of the Center for National Policy and, finally, as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations before being unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate in January 1977 as Secretary of State. She is the America’s first female Secretary of State.
- John Muir. This world-famous naturalist’s accounts in Century magazine explaining the devastation of open spaces by ranch animals gained national attention and led to congress creating Yosemite National Park. Muir also helped establish Grand Canyon, Sequoia, Petrified Forest and Mount Rainier national parks. He then founded the Sierra Club to protect these areas.
- Joseph Pulitzer started his work in St. Louis. His diligence and hard work allowed him to become a publisher and then owner of the Louis Post Dispatch. The paper was extremely popular for its stories on corruption and tax dodgers. Later as owner of the New York World Pulitzer’s efforts resulted in helping to build a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty so it could be shipped from France. As his greatest legacy Pulitzer left an annual series of journalistic awards, the Pulitzer Prizes.
- Felix Frankfurter. This Supreme Court justice was appointed by FDR. Before that he was a teacher at Harvard Law School, where he earned a reputation as a leading constitutional scholar. Frankfurter’s rulings on the Court were reflected in a policy of non-interference in the proceedings of state governments. He died in 1965.
- Subranhmanyan Chandrasekhar was the winner of the 1983 Nobel prize for Physics. This nephew of another Nobel Prize winner for Physics drove 100 miles from Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin to Chicago for many weeks to teach a class of only two students. Ten years later, his entire class won the Nobel Prize in Physics. They were Tsung Dao Lee, who received his Ph.D. under Chandrasekhar’s guidance, and Chen Ning Yang, Tsung’s classmate for that course. Chandrasekhar’s 1983 prize was for his studies of the physical processes of importance to the structure and evolution of stars.
- Irving Berlin found work as a young man as a singing busboy in New York’s Bowery before publishing his first song in 1911. He went on to write eight hundred more, many of which would become some of the best loved American songs of all time, including “White Christmas,” “Easter Parade” and “God Bless America.” Among his stage productions are There’s No Business Like Show Business, Top Hat and Annie Get Your Gun. Berlin died in New York in 1989 at the age of 101.
- Edward M. Bannister was a prominent American landscape painter. His many paintings depict peaceful rural settings. He also painted seascapes, portraits and still lifes. In 1876 his painting, “Under The Oaks”, was awarded the grand prize at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. When the judges realized Bannister was black, they wanted to reconsider their decision, but his white competitors upheld the judges’ decision.
- “Mother” Mary Harris Jones. A teacher, Jones married a steel worker and had four children. It was during this time that she learned of the horrible conditions under which factory workers labored. In 1867 her husband and all of her children died during a typhoid epidemic. Devastated, she then moved to Chicago and tragedy struck again when she lost everything in the Great Chicago Fire. Forced to work in a factory to make ends meet, she began to fight for worker’s rights, particularly coal miners in Colorado and West Virginia, steelworkers, and children. She endured jail and death threats for her cause, and worked almost until her death at nearly one hundred.
While the preceding list is impressive it represents only a very small number of immigrants who have helped to make America what it is today.
The U.S. is faced with two immigration issues 1) who should be allowed to enter the United States and what are the criteria and 2) what to do about illegal or undocumented immigrants, those who entered the United States without permission. In both cases one can make the argument that our immigration system is like our infrastructure, it is in dire need of repair.
The issue of undocumented immigrants has become a political football with emotions running so high as to negatively affect all immigrants. It is not unusual to hear that our entire system is broken and no one should be allowed into the country until it is fixed. Just exactly what “fixed” means depends on who you talk to. The fact of the matter is that the system which allows for legal entry into the U.S. has a few problems that could be easily addressed. Problems like being unable to locate people who entered but overstayed their permission. For example in 2015 some 45 million people arrived in the U.S. by air and sea whose visas expired in that fiscal year. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates that about 417,000 of them did not leave when they were supposed to. It is entirely possible they are still here and we don’t know where. Penalties for overstaying a visa can be serious, but only if you can find the offender and that’s where our system is broken.
If we follow the advice of the extremists we would immediately stop all immigration until all “illegal” immigrants were rounded up and the system fixed to prevent their return. If we do that we will, of course, keep out some of the criminal elements that worry so many Americans. At the same time, though, we also keep out the Einsteins, Albrights, Pulitzers and Jones’. Experts tell us that the number of immigrants who would bring benefits to the U.S. so far outnumbers those with criminal intent as to be negligible but experts with facts often have little impact on panic stricken extremists whose beliefs are fortified by rumor, innuendo and conspiracy theories. While I recognize there are some who will not change their views, this blog is not aimed at them, rather I am speaking to those who believe in immigration but need more ammunition to support their belief and those who are on the fence – they just don’t know who to believe. Maybe this information will help.
We are a nation of immigrants who owe our all to what those pioneers were able to accomplish. Unless you are a Native American each of us has immigrant roots, roots of which we should be proud. Let’s look at the facts from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
- Immigrants tend to be highly entrepreneurial, creating jobs here in the United States. The Small Business Administration says immigrants are more likely to start a business than are non‑immigrants; while they are only 12 percent of the U.S. population, immigrants represent 16.7 percent of all new business owners in the United States.
- 4 percent of businesses owned by those with less than a high school education are owned by immigrants, and 12 percent of businesses owned by those with a college education are owned by immigrants. Overall, immigrants own 10.8 percent of all firms with employees, providing job opportunities for thousands of Americans.
- Immigrants are an important part of our international competitiveness, especially in technology-intensive and service industries. Compared to U.S.-born Americans, immigrants are more likely to hold an advanced degree and are almost twice as likely to hold a Ph.D. Many of our most productive scientists and engineers are foreign-born, keeping the United States at the forefront of global innovation.
- Some of the companies at the forefront of the digital revolution were co-founded by immigrants: Intel, Sun Microsystems, eBay, Google, and Yahoo to name a few. This entrepreneurial spirit is particularly important as we look towards the private sector to find new opportunities for growth and to create new jobs for American workers.
- The positive economic effects of immigrants are not just limited to individuals with advanced degrees. Immigrants also play an important role in the economy by filling niches where the domestic supply of workers is limited. In many cases, these immigrants do not compete directly with other domestic workers but instead complement the work of U.S. born workers.
- Immigrant workers also increase the affordability and availability of services such as child care, cleaning services, and gardening. These services in turn increase standards of living and free up time for consumers to devote to alternative economic activity.
- Most studies estimating the fiscal impacts of immigrants have found that the taxes (including state, federal and Social Security taxes) that immigrants pay exceed the cost of the services they use, in aggregate and over the long run. In addition, the children of immigrants have a long-run fiscal impact similar to that of the children of the U.S.-born population. These children enter the labor force and pay far more in taxes than they receive in benefits.
These many contributions are in jeopardy if we do not fix our broken immigration system. In the 21st century, more than ever, competition is global. Whether America continues to be the most attractive investment opportunity will partly depend on whether or not we attract, train, and retain the best future workforce from around the world.
For more facts on immigration go to https://www.uscis.gov/news/fact-sheets/naturalization-fact-sheet
On a personal note, both my paternal and materal grandparents were immigrants. The Aronsons are from Sweden and the Pancotti family is from Italy. They both made important contributions to American society by working hard, paying taxes and being excellent cityizens. Had there been a “Keep Out” sign erected when they wanted to move here, This column would not exist, nor would any of the othere significant contributions of my family. I am a second generation American and proud of my immigtrant background. While most of you may have families that have been here longer than mine don’t ever forget that at some point, they too lived in a foreign country and became Americans. Deny immigration and you deny your right to exist.
And from where I sit, that’s the truth.