President Joe Biden has proclaimed June “National Immigrant Heritage Month.” It is most appropriate because June is also high school graduation season and looking over the names and faces of Long Island’s valedictorians and salutatorians in Newsday, what is so impressive is how many are first- or second-generation immigrants. The diversity of faces and backgrounds, a reflection of America, should be a source of pride for our community and our nation.
The Census Bureau released the first results from its 2020 count and the number, 331.4 million on April 1, 2020, reflects the slowest growth rate of 7.4 percent in the U.S. population since the 1930s. The 7.3 percent growth in the 1930s reflected a decade that experienced the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world (up until then). In contrast, the population grew 13.2 percent during the boom decade of the 1990s and 9.7 percent between 2000 and 2010.
Declining birth rates are an issue – women delaying child-rearing and families choosing to have fewer children, and what can be described as malaise over future prospects in light of climate change, finances and other concerns.
But add to that, the last four years have seen the spigot of immigration shut off. The Trump administration turned its anti-immigrant agenda into a crusade to not only imprison, deport and de-legitimize as many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants as possible, but to close off asylum-seekers, refugees and legal immigration.
Now, as we emerge out of the coronavirus pandemic, businesses are clamoring for workers, really resenting being forced into offering a living wage, benefits, even signing incentives. A lot of this is blamed on workers not feeling safe enough to go to work, mothers kept home by lack of child care or schools not fully open, people who have moved away after they were laid off, a disconnect between work available and workers willing to do it, and able to wait longer because of federal unemployment benefits as well as a revaluation of how one spends one’s limited lifetime. But it is also because of a shortage of immigrants.
So it is not without irony that after five (or 20) years of tormenting, vilifying and barring even legal immigration, the U.S. – along with other industrialized countries (even China) that are experiencing low birth rates and aging population – may be competing for immigrants.
As New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo noted in “The World Might Be Running Low on Americans,” “immigrants provide the spark, the creativity, as well as the competition.” (www.nytimes.com/2021/05/20/opinion/the-world-might-be-running-low-on-americans.html)
And so we return to our list of valedictorians and salutatorians. The names of entrepreneurs and inventors. The doctors and nurses, the researchers who got us through COVID-19. More than 130,000 TPS holders and more than 200,000 DACA recipients have been working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic to keep communities healthy and safe.
You can look to the fact that immigrants have been awarded 37 percent of the Nobel Prizes won by Americans in chemistry, medicine and physics since 2000, according to the National Foundation for American Policy.
“The significant number of immigrant Nobel Prize winners is a sign of America’s openness to new ideas and people,” writes Stuart Anderson in Forbes. The study “shows recent immigrants have played an outsized role in bringing honor and recognition to America in scientific fields. The achievements of immigrants in the form of Nobel Prizes, successful businesses and contributions in other fields are a testament to the American Dream.” (www.forbes.com/sites/stuartanderson/2020/10/14/immigrants-nobel-prizes-and-the-american-dream)
Immigrants founded or lead half of America’s most valuable technology companies. Immigrants are more than twice as likely as native-born Americans to become entrepreneurs. In 2019, there were 3.2 million immigrant entrepreneurs employing 8 million people. Between 1996-2011, while the rate at which businesses were founded by immigrants increased 50 percent, the rate declined by 10 percent among native-born. (www.newamericaneconomy.org/issues/entrepreneurship)
There is a reason why so many of our entrepreneurs and so many of the innovations of recent decades have come from immigrants. They are motivated, success-driven, first to be motivated to leave their homeland behind – quite literally hungry – and then faced with having to overcome any number of obstacles once here, as so many of us second- and third-generation Americans can testify. They bring a zest, a zeal, an energy and if necessity is the mother of invention, that extra spark born of necessity to survive. Arguably, native-born Americans feel entitled – spoiled, even – and take for granted the legacy of wealth, privilege and property created by their forebears, who undoubtedly were immigrants who had their own struggles to succeed.
Biden has already done a lot to reverse the Trump policy of inflicting terror on asylum-seekers – reuniting hundreds of separated children with their families; ending contracts with torturous for-profit private prisons (a doctor sterilizing women without their knowledge or consent); repealing the unconstitutional Muslim Travel Ban and the “public charge” rule that was a slap in the face of Lady Liberty; and reinstating the Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from countries hit by natural disasters or armed conflict.
One of the first acts Biden took on Jan. 20 was to introduce his U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which would legalize the status and provide an “earned” path to citizenship for Dreamers brought here as children and TPS holders who entered the country legally while addressing the root causes that have pushed so many to make the dangerous journey from their homelands. Notably, the Biden-Harris administration has also taken a strong position against illegal immigration.
Now the Biden Administration is developing a blueprint to make legal immigration easier – shorter, simpler forms so applicants have to jump through fewer hoops – and reverse Trump policies of raising fees and increasing time to go through the naturalization process, creating a backlog of 300,000. Foreigners will have better opportunities to join their families and more chances to secure work visas. All of this is to ensure America re-embraces its “character as a nation of opportunity and of welcome.” (www.nytimes.com/2021/05/31/us/politics/biden-immigration.html)
“Across each generation throughout our history, wave after wave of immigrants have enriched our nation and made us better, stronger, more innovative, and more prosperous,” Biden states in his June proclamation.
No one is suggesting throwing open borders, or abandoning vetting. What is needed is investment in the agencies, the immigration courts, the social services to properly welcome to America the people who will continue the tradition of revitalizing and improving our nation.
Inspiring immigrants to come to America to revitalize our society is a lot preferable than forcing women to bear babies to insure a labor supply.