Having immigrated to the U.S. at age 5, I have always been fascinated by the heterogeneity that America possesses. Where I had come from, there was little diversity, while in America, there are hundreds of races, languages, and cultures.
Going to a New York City public school reinforced this notion of diversity and tolerance for me, especially after hearing dozens of languages in the school cafeteria, some familiar and some new. Immigration has become a greater part of American culture, with witty movies such as Coming to America and My Big Fat Greek Wedding celebrating the immigrant’s journey in the United States. One thing that hasn’t been addressed, however, is actually how immigrants have changed America. Are immigrants draining American resources and taking American jobs, as many suggest? Or is there something more?
According to Nataly Kelly of the Huffington Post, there are several ways immigration has helped shape America into a better, smarter, and stronger nation. Unfortunately, these ways are often overlooked. Let’s examine them so we can better understand immigration as an institution.
1. Immigration gives our economy a “net boost” and creates jobs
Newsweek recently came out with a story showing that both legal and illegal immigrants help the economy. Legal immigrants are more likely to open new businesses than native-born Americans, and illegal immigrants actually contribute to the federal government through Social Security payments and income taxes. These small businesses create opportunities for employment and enterprise, while illegal immigrants are found to take less from the federal government than they give monetarily, creating a net benefit for the national government.
2. Immigration allows us to open our borders to different cultures, languages, and ideas
When it comes to traveling, many Americans can boast stories about visiting all 50 states, but only 30% of Americans actually own passports. This means that most of the interaction that Americans are getting with people from different cultures is occurring within the borders of the U.S. In a highly globalized world, this teaches Americans to be respectful of different customs, an aspect that employers are increasingly looking for.
Employers are also interested in multilingual potential employees, which is becoming more and more important when one out of five people who live in the United States speak another language other than English at home. Thanks to immigrants, America is able to increase its language capacity. Diversity of cultures also fosters diversity of thinking and overall tolerance, especially because immigrants mesh their cultural practices with American customs.
3. Immigration allows the rest of the world to view us positively
There are 37 million people in the U.S. — myself included — who identify as foreign born. That’s 12% of the population! It is these people whose friends and families help generate $2 trillion in America’s travel and tourism industry, and it is those people who travel back home with stories of what America is like.
Additionally, it is these 12% who go to their home countries for vacation and tell their friends and families about what life is like in America. This two-way traveling allows people from other nations to develop their own opinions of America as a nation. While the world is becoming highly more connected electronically, we forget the impact that basic storytelling and visiting can have.
Let us not forget that this nation is entirely a nation of immigrants; unless you are Native American or can trace your history to precolonial times, your ancestors came to this country for the same reason millions continue to do so: to enjoy rights, a decent education, and a better life for themselves and their children. Let us not forget the positive impact that these people who are not all that different from us have on this country when they reach our shores.