The nativist wing of America is myopic about the role of immigration in our country. This is remarkable considering that 75.4 percent of the U.S. population is composed of third-generation or higher immigrants (U.S. Census Bureau statistics, 2013). Donald Trump is a third-generation immigrant; his wife is first-generation. I’m fourth-generation. All non-Native Americans have an immigration story whether we acknowledge it or not.
American nativists have a knack for being willfully blind to facts about lower crime and higher economic benefits from immigration, and they appear utterly devoid of compassion for asylum seekers. Many must be coping with a remarkable degree of cognitive dissonance whereby a person can be upset about America helping families and children escape horrifying threats to their lives while insisting that a fetus deserves personhood and protection even at the cost of the mother; although this is consistent with conservative’s lack of interest in helping “birthed“ persons.
In mid-July, we learned from the chief tweeter that it is also best to have a fair complexion lest you be considered an immigrant that should go “back to where you came from” if you don’t agree with Trump and his minions.
According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, 13.7 percent of the U.S. population is composed of immigrants. The historical high was 14.8 percent … and this was in the year 1890. So much for being overrun with immigrants. According to a 2018 article in Forbes magazine, 55 percent of America’s billion-dollar startups have an immigrant founder.
Think about that … 55 percent of billion-dollar startups come from founders that represent only 13.7 percent of the U.S. population. This highlights a very important characteristic about immigrants that is probably disproportionately represented in this unique population. That is, immigrants are inherently willing to take more risks … and what is not to like about this in a free-market economy? (or at least what is left after the chief tweeter decides who should be winners and losers).
During the past 20 years it has been my honor to work with many such people including my graduate students from Argentina, Armenia, Canada, China, India, Kenya, Libya, Poland, South Korea, Switzerland, and Taiwan.
I did not seek these individuals out – they sought opportunities at Washington State University (and many more do the same at the University of Idaho). I have had ten postdoctoral fellows that have included individuals from Canada, China, India, Russia and Zimbabwe. Over the years my lab has had the fortune to have many international visiting scholars (staying longer than a month) and I have worked with students from other labs that collectively represent Bangladesh, Brazil, Columbia, Czech Republic, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Spain, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania.
The majority of these individuals developed and published new scholarship with me and my colleagues, and many continue their contributions in science.
They represent a multitude of cultures but their greatest commonality is that they came here to improve themselves, and by virtue of their grace and efforts, to improve me and our community. Some stayed in the U.S. to build new lives and careers, while others returned to their countries where they serve as ambassadors for the U.S., and they help build other lives through their careers at universities, institutes and businesses.
These efforts will invariably lead to improvements in economic status, which helps lift communities and reduce social strife. What is not to like about the ambition, focus and energy that comes knocking on our door!
Some of my students and visitors brought their families, and most shared some of their cultural heritage. Many different religious perspectives were represented, and many languages and accents have been spoken in my lab. Some English was weak, but it always improved; I wish I could say the same for my linguistic skills. But at the end of the day, regardless of ethnicity, creed or geographic origin, at their core all of these people were indisputably human.
Unlike our chief tweeter, none of the people I have worked with were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. All just want a chance to work hard, to grow, and to be successful for themselves and their families. That is to say, they are no different from you, me or the vast majority of Americans. Someday we will have the courage to recognize this again and embrace the entrepreneurial spirit that grows from aspirations to find that “shining city on a hill.”
Douglas Call is a microbiologist. He and his family have lived on the Palouse for more than 20 years.