The United States is an immigrant nation, yet we have frequently feared the foreign-born. Catholics, Jews, Germans, Italians and anyone with dark skin have been scorned and isolated at times.
Resentment of immigrants ran particularly high 100 years ago, and by 1924 immigration was tightly restricted for southern Europeans (whom President Woodrow Wilson considered deeply inferior). Today, the percentage of those born abroad is similar to what it was back then — 13 percent — with one of four American children having at least one foreign-born parent. Could we be entering another era where we fear the foreigner?
Religious discrimination declined sharply when prosperity rose after World War II. Today, although we’re approaching full employment according to the Federal Reserve, many Americans feel economically insecure and suspicious of those “taking our jobs.” Donald Trump may be a liar, but he has tapped into a strong sentiment. Muslims are the new Catholics and Jews.
Before this gets out of hand, let’s reconsider the economic value of immigration. It is well known that half of Silicon Valley companies were founded or cofounded by immigrants. Forty percent of Fortune 500 companies were also built by immigrants or their parents. Immigrants create 28 percent of all new American businesses today. Since 2004, nearly half of new workers have been immigrants.
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Is that a good thing? According to the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, both high- and low-skilled immigration boosts economic growth. “Immigrants’ educational backgrounds typically complement those of the native born,” the institute wrote, adding that “they contribute more in taxes than they cost in services.”
In Idaho, the dairy and food-processing industries would collapse without new Americans. When refugees were evicted from their Boise apartments recently, Chobani contributed to their resettlement. Chobani’s owner, Hamdi Ulukaya, came here from Turkey and built the world’s largest yogurt plant near Twin Falls.
Refugees from Turkey’s neighbor, Syria, are particularly worrisome. Syrians will “take advantage of our compassion,” one Idaho political leader declared recently, implying this is all about doing them a favor. Of course we must be exceedingly vigilant in the face of terrorism, but how do we remain open to someone such as Abdul Fattah Jandali? The father of Steve Jobs, he emigrated here from Syria.
Jerry Brady is a member of Compassionate Boise. firstname.lastname@example.org