The United States, as we know it today would not exist without immigration. In the year 2000 US Census, of a population of over 281 million only 20 million or about 7 percent listed their ancestry as American (or United States). During the several decades spanning the 1970s to 1990s, the US was enjoying the fruits of ‘brain drain’, that is, the voluntary emigration of talented people or human capital from many countries. This expression describes the process whereby other countries having paid the cost of raising people during their unproductive years experience a loss as these peoples come to the US mostly for university studies and upon graduation, decide to remain in the US and contribute to the workforce and national productivity.
On the other hand, we must recall, and we periodically do through remembrances such as Black History Month, the forced immigration of vast numbers of peoples, whom we refer to as African Americans now, from Africa to serve as slaves that contributed tremendously to the economic development of this country.
Growth in voluntary immigration not only strengthens the US but also is a gauge of how well we are doing as a country. The fact that people wish to come to the US means we are doing something right. If no one wanted to be here, then we should all probably be questioning our own presence in this country.
On numerous occasions, myself, friends, acquaintances have been slandered for not being so called American. The more subtle everyday form of this discrimination goes as follows: During a first meeting with someone, I occasionally get the question: where are you from? I already know from the tone the intent of the questioner. I respond ‘Michigan’. Follow up question: ‘No, where are you really from?’. My answer: ‘I was born in Michigan’. Response:’Oh’. But the questioner is not appeased and so volleys another question meant to make the point: ‘Where are you parents from?’.
One evening, I was attending a local youth soccer meeting, an appreciation dinner for volunteers. There were 7 people at the table. Two of the adults were from Germany recently relocated to Detroit through their company. Their accents immediately identified them European leading the usual mild and pleasant questioning. Their German-ness or European-ness brought on mostly chatter about how the others love traveling to Europe, have seen this part or that part of Europe, how long are you staying, you should come over our house sometime, etc. Clearly there were obvious signs that the remaining members of the table, other than me, were fully American. And so I was the next target. Well, needless to say the question of ‘where are you from arose?’ Thereafter, I found myself in a conversation with one lady at the table who derided Mexicans, Indians, etc. dismayed that they chose not to stay in their own countries and that they were simply milking the extremely generous benefits provided by her country.
My experiences are mild compared to those of others. I am afraid that part of America’s so called tolerance – note I did not say respect – for immigrants is that the wealth of the country has been rising for decades. Now if there should be an economic downturn that significantly weakens or reverses this trend for many years then anti-immigrant feelings will likely swell.
Now consider that the strength a nation derives from laws favorable to immigration also requires another strength: strength of character, the courage to consider all peoples as equal human beings, and on this regards, I believe our record is uneven and shaky. Without it, the stability of the nation is threatened, especially in a democratic nation such as ours. Despite the diversity of our peoples, there is no tolerance –let along respect- in the opinions of those who claim to represent the general public in the media or political institutions. Some of this is changing but very slowly. Add to that the inflammatory and highly biased language of the war on terror and I believe that we are beginning to adversely affect our sense of country and community.
In our country, there is a portion of the population who believes they are the real Americans and now they are here, they believe no one else should be allowed. All I can say is watch what you wish for.