Reader Request #6: Immigration

Hey, everyone. Sorry about the late update today; I knocked out a tooth yesterday and it’s kind of messed with my schedule. Before you ask: I’m fine. It’s fixed. And you wouldn’t know the bottom half of my top left incisor was fake unless I just told you, which I just did. Now then. S Rajaram wants me to opine on immigration. He (I’m assuming he’s a he) says:

“How about the uncontrolled immigration that is plaguing America. 10 million immigrants in the last 10 years and more on the way!”

Well, I don’t particularly think immigration, as a concept, is something that’s plaguing America overly much. It’s a hoary concept that the United States is a nation of immigrants, and it’s an equally hoary concept that everyone thinks immigration should have stopped right after their ancestors slipped over the borders. Being that my own immediate family has ancestors that arrived here anywhere from less a century to more than 40 millennia ago, I tend to take a wide-spectrum approach to immigration, which is: You got something to offer? Come on in.

I don’t know where my correspondent came up with the “10 million in 10 years” stat, so I can’t speak for its accuracy, but if it is true, it’s not without precedent in this county: At the turn of the 20th century, more than a million immigrants a year came to the US, including (at the early end of that wave) my Italian forebears. People bitched about the immigrants then as well, although at this point in time I think it’s difficult for anyone who is not currently physically or spiritually wearing a pointy white robe to say that the US would have been notably improved by the absence of the Italians and the Jews that came across at that time.

These days people are largely bitching about the Mexicans and other Latins, but as my own wife is partially from that gene pool, as is my daughter, I’ll not be one of them. Among my very good friends, one of the best is an immigrant (born in India, although he came over as an infant), and another of the best has immigrant parents (Poland and Chile), and of the rest more have immigrant parents than I care to think about. My extended family has genes from four continents at least, and I think that’s just peachy. I can’t consider immigration a problem because if I do I pretty much have to say to either family or friends that they need to go back to where they came from, and they’re not about to let me get away with that.

To be honest about it, the problem is not immigration but the fact we’re so stupid about it. All those illegal immigrants who pick your lettuce at rock bottom pay so you don’t have to pay $10 a head for it would love to get guest work visas that would allow them to come up from Mexico, pick produce and then head back. Give ’em visas, make ’em legal, and thank them for their utterly thankless work. You’ve just solved America’s primary illegal immigration problem.

Beyond that, the USA ought to be aggressively cherry-picking the best minds from other countries to live here. The best windfall the United States ever got was from the Nazis, who decided to use Jews for oven kindling rather than for their brains, forcing waves of Jewish scientists to our shores. It’s not a joke (well, maybe a very dark one) that the United States got the nuclear bomb directly from the Nuremberg Laws. Look at the big minds behind the Manhattan Project and you’ll see the value of letting really smart people into the United States.

Today, really really smart people from all over the world are itchin’ to come to the US. What, we want other countries to benefit from their brains? One of the biggest complaints around these here parts is that native-born American kids can’t be bothered to get worked up about science and math. Until we decide it might be nice to fund our high school science labs as well as we fund our high school football teams, I don’t mind resorting to nabbing the best minds from elsewhere.

America is a country of self-selectors: With the terrible exception of the African slaves, there is no segment of our immigrant population, from the land-bridge-crossing Asians of 40,000 BC to the Nigerians settling in Queens today, who didn’t choose to take the risk to come to this continent (and in the last couple hundred years to this country) to have the opportunity to live up to their potential. These are motivated people, and by and large people who appreciate what we offer and who want to give back in return. It’s often said that the most patriotic Americans are the newest ones, and I can believe that, since they understand what the alternative is.

So that’s my take on immigration: Not a plague, but a blessing. We can talk about how we let people in, if you want to do that; I wouldn’t mind us being a little more systematic about that. But as to whether it’s a good or bad thing, well, that’s not even an issue. And if you don’t like the way I feel about it, then you’re free to go back to where to came from.

No, no. Just kidding. You can stay.

(Remember I’m still taking topic suggestions for Reader Appreciation Week! Make your suggestions in the message thread here.)

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