This summer’s fight over immigration reform has followed the now-familiar playbook from Washington, D.C. The Obama administration’s proposal for reform was halted by congressional opposition, postponing the much-needed reforms until at least the fall.
For now, this government-imposed stall will not squander the durable appeal of the United States for immigrants. The United States continues to be far more tolerant than its European counterparts and offer more opportunities than non-European nations like Canada and Australia. However, there is a limit to how long this can continue. The advantages of life in the United States, which have historically drawn immigrants, must be reinforced by a government that understands the immense importance of immigration to the future of the nation.
In the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, it is obvious to all that the United States is hardly free of racial and ethnic tensions. However, by global standards, the United States remains a remarkably tolerant place. A nation of immigrants, its sense of identity is based less on ethnic or religious roots than on a shared notion of ideals. Though every wave of immigrants is met with a level of xenophobia, it almost universally becomes integrated into the fabric of the American society.
The shocking exceptionality of the Boston Marathon bombing and its uneventful aftermath is a testament to an atmosphere of tolerance and solidarity in the United States. There were no riots against Muslim citizens and the Muslim communities of the country roundly condemned the attack. Notwithstanding the irresponsible internet rumors that led to the death of a Brown University student, the nation stood together and remained tolerant of minority immigrants.
When one compares this to Europe, one is struck by that continent's pervasive intolerance towards immigrants. In major European nations such as Britain, France, Spain, Germany, and Denmark, ghettoized immigrants feel that they have no stake in their society and resort to violence and crime. In times of economic downturn, these problems are accentuated by the rise of right-wing parties. The recent riots over the Burqa ban in France are just the latest incidents in the ongoing culture war within Europe.
Even when Europe eventually reemerges from the EU meltdown, the deeply ingrained intolerance of its citizens will continue to make Europe a place that is less than ideal for immigrants.
In terms of opportunity, the United States remains an attractive place for immigrants. Intelligence and hard work are still seen as a path to success no matter who one is. This idea has always been a myth, but there have always been mythical figures to substantiate it. From Andrew Carnegie to the more recent Steve Jobs, the United States has given immigrants and their children opportunities like no other place. It is not surprising that the United States remains one of the top places for affluent Chinese to immigrate to.
However, the American Dream seems less and less credible. The decline of the middle class, the exorbitant cost of an undergraduate education, and the high youth non-employment rate have obscured the advantages in the land of opportunity. Immigrants, who wish for a better life for their children, have much more to think about when they consider a move to the United States.
Other developed nations,such as Canada and Australia have further challenged the American Dream. These nations have successful immigration policies that have weathered the economic downturn to make their nations stronger. Furthermore, they are also places where the children of immigrants can receive a top-rate education for an exceptionally lower cost than in the United States.
There are few signs that the United States is growing intolerant towards immigrants, but there are signs that it is no longer a place of unequaled opportunity. This is a great challenge that must be met by an effective and pragmatic government. Not only is there a need to end much of the legal red tape that makes it difficult for the highly educated and skilled to enter the country and stay, the government must also begin to actually govern. It must show prospective immigrants that the United States is a place that will continue to provide opportunities for their children after they are gone.
It is no understatement to say that the challenge of immigration is one of the most important facing the United States in the 21st century. The nation that is able to attract the most talent to its shores will have a key economic, political, and social advantage over others. By discouraging the best and the brightest from immigrating to the United States and by exhibiting dysfunctionality, the current government countermands the correct course.