In a recent New York Times article, Jason DeParle details the efforts by John Tanton, a native of Michigan and a liberal to crusade against immigration over the past three decades. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/us/17immig.html?hp
How can anyone doubt the significant contributions to America’s greatness and prosperity made by immigrants over the entire course of our history? Indeed, this nation was founded by immigrants. And ever since, we have reaped benefits from the slaves who were brought over from Africa to the contributions of labor and innovation by immigrants from around the globe.
Andrew Carnegie was an immigrant, and so was Walt Disney, as were many of the most prominent people in our movie industry. And many of our most prominent politicians, like Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Sununu were either immigrants or the children of immigrants. And there are also men like Ralph Alvarez, CEO of McDonalds and Carlos Gutierrez, CEO of Kellogg.
My own experiences with immigrants confirm the importance of their contributions, beginning with my father, who was a Cuban immigrant and was honored for his engineering contributions, to Jesse Aweida, who started the best company I ever worked for, which yielded many innovations in the computer industry. And along the way, I was privileged to meet Lafti Zadeh, a brilliant mathematician and engineer of Iranian descent who was born in Russia, and many fine university professors, doctors and surgeons, engineers and business people who immigrated from India, Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Africa. And dare I mention Roberto Clemente, since Puerto Rico is an “unincorporated territory” of the US?
And it is extremely important that we do not allow prejudice and fear to influence our immigration policies. An important lesson can be learned from the story of Tsien Hsue-shen, a chinese immigrant who was one of our most prominent aerospace engineers and a consultant to NASA, Boeing and other aerospace companies in the 1050’s. Tsien wanted to pursue American citizenship, but was accused of being a member of the Communist Party. So his security clearance was revoked, and he was restricted to a very small radius of movement, which constrained his ability to consult with important clients. So Tsien returned to China, and is credited with China’s subsequent extraordinary growth in aviation, computer and aerospace technology. If we forced all the people who are opposed to immigration or who wish to restrain immigration, to emigrate from the US, it is doubtful that any of those people would have a similar effect on their new countries.
But Dr. Tanton’s initial concerns were based primarily on his concerns about nature conservancy and an apparently limited experience with the primarily white, rural area of Michigan where he spent his life. If he had traveled to Asia and Europe, as I have done, where immigration has been occurring for at least as long as America has existed, he would have seen remarkably clean cities as well as rural areas, and buildings that have been continually occupied for hundreds of years. Then, rather than railing against immigration, he might have been inspired to pursue a change in Americans’ attitudes toward preserving infrastructure and the environment instead.