6.18.2010

We Should Want More of Them


I lunched with a colleague of mine earlier this week who is active in immigration issues at a local and national level. He regaled me with the story of one immigrant, let's call her Rose, who had pretty much everything go wrong that was possible to go wrong in her childhood, and somehow pulled herself up by her bootstraps, started a business, employed people, and sent two kids off to college. It was, in essence, the quintessential feel-good American story.

My colleague and I lamented aspects of local and national policy that sent the signal - whatever is or is not the reality is actually secondary, since perception is what counts when people are making decisions about where they are going to go - that immigrants are not welcome here. Should we not want more people like Rose in our communities, cities, and regions? Who basically announce with their blood, sweat, and tears that they are prepared to do whatever it takes and work however hard is needed to make it and to make a way for their children?

Sports fans may ooh and aah at raw talent, but fan favorites are usually those who, talent or no talent, want it more. Most sports fans would take a team full of players who are hungry and desperate and committed and fearless over a team full of entitled prima donnas, no matter how gifted they are.

I realize I am glossing over some considerable complexities here by making this comparison, but should not we be the same way with immigrants? Should we not want more of them, rather than saying they're not welcome? After all, isn't what makes America great is the great and fanciful and meritorious notion that we are a land of opportunity and freedom such that if we are persistent and motivated and industrious enough, we can make it for ourselves and our children?

Rose's example is by no means unusual, but is rather almost definitional of her class of immigrants, much like my parents when they came to the US in the 1960's. We should want more, for if they come, I posit that we will be greater and stronger, and more like the America we conjure up in our minds, for it.

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