As American As Sholeh Zard
Hardline immigration reformers have made their position clear: They seek to curtail immigration and are only interested in accepting a small number of high-achieving immigrants from predominantly white, western nations. Many in Congress claim to support legal immigration, yet they also support the administration’s restrictive policies and insist that immigrants “assimilate” to their ideal of a white, homogenous monoculture. This is antithetical to everything America stands for. It’s also incredibly short-sighted and dangerous to our economy.
We would be wise to remember that without a healthy influx of immigrants, the number of working-age Americans will drop from 175 million in 2015, to 166 million by 2035. It is also important to call attention to a recent report from the Department of Health and Human Services which shows that refugees contribute billions more to the economy than they cost. (source)
Dramatic cuts to immigration will eventually lead to a serious decline in our GDP. Worse yet, we would not have the revenue necessary to support Social Security or Medicare for our retired Baby Boomers. These facts are generally known and accepted by all but a handful of anti-immigration hardliners.
There’s another, more fundamental consequence to limiting immigration that would be just as ruinous for our nation, but our tendency to focus on the economics of immigration often crowds out discussion around this critical consideration.
I’m about as white as one could be. My ancestors from my father’s side came to the U.S. from England long before the American Revolution. My mother’s side immigrated from Germany/Prussia in the early 1800’s. Growing up in the Bay Area, I was surrounded by immigrants and children of immigrants. I can recall their incredible stories of how they came to the U.S. from Vietnam, Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, El Salvador, Turkey, Iran, Cuba, China… Many were good friends and their influence on my life can’t be overstated. They helped me through school, encouraged me to go to college, and helped me find work during my college years. More recently, three children of Chinese immigrants founded a tech startup and took me under their wing as the third employee of their company. The startup was ultimately acquired by Apple where I obtained a senior-level management position.
And then there’s this woman I know who, as a young child, fled Iran after the Revolution with her mother and sister and came to the U.S. as a refugee with nothing but her pride and determination. Like so many others who wish to come to our country today, they did not meet the administration’s current definition of “merit.” Despite the many obstacles she would encounter as an immigrant and as a woman, she taught herself English, put herself through college, earned advanced certifications, and is now earning (and paying taxes on) a healthy salary as a Project Manager at one of the most recognizable brands in retail. Most importantly, she is the mother of two amazing and kind Honor Roll students – my two beautiful children.
It is immigrants that remind us of all we can be thankful for as Americans. Their love for America and hope for the American dream energize us and make our nation stronger. It is no coincidence that the most vibrant and thriving areas of our country are also the most diverse: Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Boston, NYC, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles… Diversity is strongly correlated to economic output.
Cultural and ethnic diversity help make America great. If we are to remain great, we must implore our elected representatives to not only provide a clear pathway to citizenship for our DREAMers, but to go farther. We should allow MORE refugees and immigrants to come to the U.S. legally, and modernize our Immigration and Naturalization Service to help them become citizens more quickly.
There is no such thing as “American culture.” There is no apple pie, and we’ve never been a melting pot. We don’t smelt immigrants into an homogenized goo and recast them using some congeneric American Borg mold. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Our forefather’s ambitions for Liberty created the foundation for what has become a uniquely American trait: Individuality. As I like to tell my children, no one ever became famous for being like everyone else.
We‘re not a melting pot; we are a tapestry. With every new immigrant we become stronger and more beautiful as their uniquely perfect thread is woven into the fabric of our society. If we can finally embrace this undeniable truth, then we will see our nation reclaim its position as the leader of the free world, and soar to new heights beyond our highest hopes.
I know a lot of folks reading this will disagree with my views, but I speak from experience they don’t have. My family has been here for centuries. By the old standard, you could say that I’m about as American as one could be; “apple pie” even. But, I grew up with immigrants, I ate with immigrants, I played and worked and celebrated and suffered with immigrants and here’s what I can tell you:
They are the most American people I have ever met.