Arianna Huffington is an immigrant. I know that's shocking, but just to be sure, we interviewed Arianna last week. Her immigrant story is here as a part of our newly launched Dreams Across America website and campaign which encourages everyone to tell their immigration story. I don't know about you, but I think America is far better off with Arianna contributing her talent and skills to our nation than it would be had she remained in Greece or England.
Arianna's story is unusual only because she is famous. Otherwise, she is very much the story of the American dream: a highly intelligent, determined person decides that she wants to make the best of her life. She looks around the world, as did the Pilgrims and tens of millions of Western and Eastern Europeans (and many others) over a period of four hundred years, and she sees promise in America. This nation of unlimited social mobility wins again.
The story is repeated so often that it becomes rote. My grandparents came here from Russia or Ukraine or Poland or Lithuania, we are not sure which, to escape pogroms and anti-Semitism. Had they not left those inhospitable climes for Chicago, they would have been killed by Hitler. That is, if they'd have made it that far. In the run-up to Hitler's final solution, the American establishment refused entry to hundreds of thousands of Jews.
As the Cato Institute, hardly a bastion of left wing liberalism, says:
"America was founded, shaped, and built in large measure by immigrants seeking freedom and opportunity. Since 1820, 66 million immigrants have entered the United States legally, and each new wave stirred controversy in its day. In the mid-1800s, Irish immigrants were scorned as lazy drunks too beholden to the pope in Rome. At the turn of the century, a wave of ''New Immigrants'" --Poles, Italians, Austro-Hungarians, and Russian Jews-- was believed to be too different to ever assimilate into American life. Today the same fears arise about immigrants from Latin America and Asia, but current critics of immigration are as wrong as their counterparts were in previous eras.
The overriding impact of immigrants is to strengthen and enrich American culture, increase the total output of the economy, and raise the standard of living of American citizens. Immigrants are advantageous to the United States for several reasons: (1) Since they are willing to take a chance in a new land, they are self-selected on the basis on motivation, risk taking, work ethic, and other attributes beneficial to a nation. (2) They tend to come to the United States during their prime working years (the average age is 28), and they contribute to the workforce and make huge net contributions to old-age entitlement programs, primarily Social Security. (3) Immigrants tend to fill niches in the labor market where demand is highest relative to supply, complementing rather than directly competing with American workers. (4) Many immigrants arrive with extremely high skill levels, and virtually all, regardless of skill level, bring a strong desire to work. (5) Their children tend to reach high levels of achievement in American schools and in society at large."
Wednesday in Los Angeles, we launched the Dreams Across America tour. It's a train trip from Los Angeles to Washington with 100 immigrants, first to fifth generation, from June 13-18. But it's really a metaphor for the American journey, a collage of dreams that forms our national tapestry. Hours after we announced our plans, we were greeted by Lou Dobbs (whose television network exists as a result of the successful immigration of Europeans in the early part of the last century) as a "desperate" measure by the twelve million or so people currently in our midst who came here to work, to build a great life for themselves, to fuel our economy.
Lou Dobbs makes $4 million a year because he is able to get attention and therefore ads, apparently sparing no human in the process. I can only wonder what Mr. Dobbs would have said had he been able to broadcast in 1939, after Hitler's plans to destroy European Jewry became manifest to anyone who'd look, even to the Lou Dobbses of the day. Would Mr. Dobbs have preached from his high pulpit of populism to say, "They can't come here. They'll ruin our America?"
Today's America is actually a lot easier to comprehend, even for Mr. Dobbs. We live in a country that grows because we have immigrants who work, who buy over one trillion dollars a year worth of stuff and who want only to live the American dream. Twelve million people are here now to make our country stronger. They serve in our military, clean our floors, cook our food, employ our people, come in first in their high school classes and build our communities. They are not going anywhere. It's time to understand the clear choice:
We can either leave these folks to persist in the shadows inside this country with no credit cards, no education, no path to citizenship, no coherent tax policy, no insurance, no drivers licenses, no way to buy houses and no way to be Americans. Or we can acknowledge reality, give them a path to citizenship so that they can buy more stuff, help build the middle class, get college educations, buy houses from retired baby boomers and build our country anew, just as have generations of immigrants before them. It's that simple.
We need all of the Arianna Huffingtons and Javier Gonzaelezes and Vinod Khoslas and Lou Dobbses (where's he from, anyway?) we can get. We need folks who care about this country, want to keep it strong and great, who want to build the future.
Dreams Across America invites everyone to tell their own story on line. Join us. Build an American conversation. Get to know each other. We can spend our nights listening to overwrought and overpaid television pundits who profit on scary sound bites, or we can keep building our middle class. The choice is clear.