For those of you who know me, this comes as no surprise, but I have a confession to make: I am a first generation immigrant (from the Netherlands) to this country and I have good reasons to be more than superficially interested in the immigration debate that has occupied the airwaves from time to time.
Immigration is a hot and contentious topic in America today. That is somewhat surprising if you consider that virtually all American citizens are descendants of immigrants who arrived in this country less than 500 years ago and this country would not be what it is today if that migration had not taken place.The United States is therefore often and rightly referred to as a “Nation of Immigrants”. There is not another country in the world where immigration has as much contributed to population growth and economic success as it has in the USA. According to the U.S. Census Bureau about 60 million Americans – or one in every five people – are immigrants or the children of immigrants. These are the people that have propelled the USA to its superpower status. What is there to suggest that continuing immigration would suddenly become a negative rather than the positive it has been ever since the arrival on our shores of the first settlers? As Paul Taylor points out in his recently released book “The Next America”, “No nation has been better served than ours by immigration, and judging by the tens of millions of people from all over the world still clambering to come here, there’s every reason to expect our long winning streak to continue.”
Alvaro Vargas Llosa has also written eloquently and convincingly about immigration. He explains in detail why immigration is as important today to America as it ever was in its still relatively short history of modern migration. I subscribe fully to all of his arguments for a smart and liberal immigration policy, which is unfortunately missing right now. In his excellent book “Global Crossings”, Alvaro Vargas Llosa also convincingly dispels the myth that immigrants come here exclusively for economic reasons.
I have asked myself numerous times what my primary motivations were for trading my expatriate status in the USA for permanent resident status. I had a good job as an executive for one of the largest energy companies in Europe and working as an ex-patriate in the U.S. By all appearances, I had a bright future ahead of me when, in 1984, I chose not to go back to Europe but build a future for my family in the USA. My decision was based on the evaluation, at that time, of the positioning for the future by America on one hand and the European Union on the other. And I chose for the USA.
As I write this, I am finishing up on writing a book about these considerations, titled NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, Reflections of a First Generation Immigrant. It will likely be released in June/July.
But, staying with the topic that is near and dear to my heart, let me try my hand on convincing you of the importance of continuing immigration for the future of the nation:
Immigration by children and working age people will have to offset a graying indigenous population and provide a much needed improvement of the current growing imbalance between the working population and the army of retirees. Migrant labor has become (whether we like it or not) the backbone of the farm economy, which is in turn one of the most globally competitive sectors of business in the USA.
With immigrants there is no lack of motivation and they will be actively engaged in and with society if only we allow them. America is a nation of immigrants. It is in our DNA and you have to believe that the constant influx – over many centuries - of people willing to risk everything for a chance to build a new life in America has had an impact on the gene pool available in America today. Controlling the immigration process is one thing. Trying to stop or hinder immigration has proven futile in the long run; it is counterproductive and a refutation of the American heritage. Immigration will only stop if America no longer offers the promise of a better future. We should all hope that it never gets to that point!