Immigrants have always been the driving force behind the American Dream. Xavier University's Institute for Politics and the American Dream recent survey verifies that the most fervent believers in the American Dream are immigrants, Latinos and African Americans.
And, yet, American history is loaded with varying degrees of resistance to immigrants. It's, therefore, ironic that in America immigration could be stridently resisted by native-born citizens. For Americans, this is a paradox because everyone, apart from Native Americans, is connected to immigrants.
Ben Franklin was upset in 1749 because the German immigrant population that year nearly equaled Philadelphia's resident population. Franklin feared Philadelphia would become a "German colony."
Abraham Lincoln, noting the emergence of the Know Nothing Party formed to stop Irish-Catholic immigration said, "We began by declaring that 'all men are created equal' and when the Know Nothings get control, it will read, 'all men are created equal except Negroes, foreigners and Catholics.'"
And now in 2010 the Arizona legislature, spearheading an anti-immigration movement, has declared that police are required to stop "illegal-looking" persons on Arizona streets requiring them to produce "papers."
A little-mentioned but disturbing part of the law is that private citizens may sue local governments or agencies "if they think the law is not being enforced," inspiring legalistic and costly vigilantism and citizens "reporting" anyone they have a mind to. If the police think the charge is groundless, the put-off citizen can still tie up courts and run up bills by suing the government.
Maybe it's about the fear of losing jobs?
No. As a 2010 study by the Fiscal Policy Institute shows, "immigration and growth go hand in hand, and areas with low levels of growth wind up with low levels of immigration but with highly skilled immigrants."
So, if your community is teeming with immigrants: congratulations. It means you are in the midst of a boom.
In Phoenix, the region with the highest economic growth rate in America over the last 20 years, the immigrant worker population is only 21 percent of the work force. In places such as New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, they have nearly twice Phoenix's immigrant workforce percentage and, yet, they have not needed to bring in the Gestapo.
In fact, Phoenix actually contradicts the Fiscal Policy study because, in spite of the massive growth, it has a relatively small immigrant worker population.
Areas with the lowest growth and lowest rates of immigration also have the highest skill, education and income in these areas. It is these immigrants who take the "good-paying jobs" because there aren't enough natives qualified to meet the needs of these low-growth, lower-education communities.
If we look at places with very low immigrant workforces like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Detroit (all under 10 percent), we discover that these immigrant groups are often equally or, more likely, better educated than the native population. In Pittsburgh for example, 63 percent of the native population has "some college" but among immigrants there 79 percent have attended college.
Then there's "border security." But we're closing borders quite effectively in the largest sense. In the U.S., 25 percent of all scientists and engineers are foreign born as are 40 percent of all engineering professors and 50 percent of all PhDs in engineering, computer sciences and life sciences. Since 9/11 the number of foreigners with exceptional skills or advanced degrees allowed into this country has dropped 65 percent!
In 2003, for the first time, America began importing more technology than it exported. According to Cornell's physics Nobel Prize winner, Robert Richardson, we have a serious scientific and engineering manpower problem. We rank 23rd in the world in the percentage of students who become engineers and scientists.
Less than three years ago we ranked third.
The anti-immigration movement in Arizona reeks of a police state that, ironically, could not be more intrusive in our personal lives while simultaneously expanding the role of government to levels seen only in totalitarian states.
A dear friend of mine is a German-Jewish immigrant, and he came here with his parents and sister at the end of WWII--the parents having escaped Nazi Germany by the skin of their teeth. My friend was 6 years old when their ship arrived in New York Harbor. His mother took his hand and guided him to the main deck to see his new homeland. The dominant scene was not the New York skyline but the overwhelming and powerful presence of the Statue of Liberty.
"What's that?" he shouted in German, breaking the awed silence of his fellow passengers.
His mother leaned over and in German whispered, "Eines tages alles." Or, "In time, everything."
Or do we have a new Know Nothing movement on our hands?
Or worse, does the lady in the harbor now wear a sign that says: "Just kidding, suckers?"
This article originally published at www.xavier.edu/politics.