An American Asset - The Immigrants Who Come to Our Shores
One of the most gratifying experiences that comes with living in the United States is encountering newcomers to this country — immigrants whose energy, spirit and entrepreneurial drive have overcome the seemingly endless obstacles put before them as they try to build a new life here. Their stories of arrival and survival can evoke tears but are often heartwarming.Perhaps it’s a quintessentially American trait to feel an emotional bond with foreigners who move here, because each of us natural-born Americans has at most a four-hundred-year history in this country, and most have far less than that.I love the stories. My dental hygienist came from Russia with a master’s degree in electrical engineering, but wasn’t allowed to practice here. (Really? A Russian electrical engineer is inferior to an American one?) But that didn’t stop her — she went back to school to learn a new profession.The man who refurbished my kitchen hails from Ireland. For the first few years, he did small jobs; now he is building McMansions, has a wife and three American boys and is on his way to U.S. citizenship. He’ll probably build his own McMansion soon.The Polish aesthetician, whom I met the day after she arrived in this country, could hardly make herself understood in English. Today, she owns her own skincare salon and her own house. She is now an American citizen, as are her husband and her two children.
The Indian friend of mine arrived in New York harbor with a college degree and $125 in his pocket thirty years ago. Today he is a wealthy man, overseeing a firm that invests in biotechnology startups. He told me that every time he sees the Statue of Liberty, he has to wipe away tears.
The stories are legion, but what triggered this blog was a small encounter yesterday.
I returned a lamp to a furniture store because it had fallen apart. There were six sales people sitting together as I entered. When I explained my problem, they quickly advised me that they weren’t responsible for handling any product without a warranty or that had been purchased more than a year ago.
Then one man quietly approached me and taking the lamp in his hands examined it. “The screw is too short; let me see what I can do,” he said in a gentle voice with a hint of a foreign accent. In short order, he found a longer screw and spent the next half hour working on the lamp until it was repaired. (Mind you, he, too was a salesman, not a repairman.) As I thanked him, I couldn’t resist asking where he was from. “I’m Persian,” he said, with a note of pride.
Driving home, I pondered the contrast between the xenophobic, nationalistic rhetoric of Donald Trump and our everyday reality, the substantial benefit to each of us Americans from the influx of immigrants.
The litany of immigrant luminaries in this country is awe-inspiring. They have come to our shores from scores of countries, pursuing a vast array of professions and subscribing to diverse political and religious beliefs. Contrasting them is interesting: Rupert Murdoch and George Soros; Ayn Rand and Emma Goldman; Madelaine Albright and Henry Kissinger.
And in contrast to Trump’s diatribes against generalized “immigrants” and the crimes he declares they commit, the data show clearly that the crime rate among immigrants is markedly lower than among the rest of the population. That’s not surprising; why would they relocate to these shores to improve their lot in life and then set out to destroy it by breaking the law?
The many refugees from the chaos of war in Syria and Iraq are not a threat to us in this country. The vetting system refugees are required to endure is arduous and long. We have much more to fear from those who might arrive on student and tourist visas. This is a process that has little vetting and is the route by which nearly all the 9/11 hijackers arrived. There’s where more effective control is needed.
American exceptionalism is a term that has been debased in recent years by certain loud conservative zealots. American exceptionalism is indeed at the core of our country’s founding ideology; it is based on freedom of religion, speech and ideas, combined with the ability and determination to seek opportunity and to pursue one’s dream under the umbrella of a system of government established on the principle that all are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights that include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
That’s what immigrants are seeking when they come to America. Let’s open our doors to them and prove that the American dream that attracted our ancestors still lives in our land today.
Happy New Year!