This past Labor Day, a rally in support of immigration reform was held at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Dale Mabry Highway. Several men stood alongside the rally in criticism of its pro-immigrant stance. Both groups’ positions brought to light the core of the immigration debate: Proponents of immigration often see themselves as upholding the American ideals of self-improvement and hard work, and opponents of immigration see immigrants as a threat to American unity and ideals.
In addition, there are some corollary issues to this supposed threat to Americanism, including the compromising of National security.
Consider the charge that immigrants threaten American unity and ideals. Immigrants are accused of threatening America’s cultural fabric, which is loosely based upon the Western tradition of individual rights and constitutional democracy. Do immigrants not seek residence in the United States because they want to flourish as individuals and incur the economic boons their efforts provide under such a governmental system? Do immigrants of all origins not represent the entrepreneurial spirit that has allowed America to prosper? Do they not represent the notion of a self-made man who seeks to improve his living conditions through ingenuity and effort, not through feudal title or force?
In a story for the Tampa Tribune, Shannon Behnken reported that more immigrants open small businesses than do native-born Americans. She cites the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which conducted a study showing that 350 immigrants per 100,000 opened businesses every month in 2005, compared to 280 native-born Americans per 100,000 for the same time period. The immigrants who do not start their own businesses contribute significantly to the economy by working jobs many native-born Americans choose not to fill – jobs in fields such as construction and agriculture, which are staples of Florida’s economy.
Regardless of their legal status, these immigrants contribute to local businesses’ revenues. Immigrants must survive, and in order to do so they purchase groceries, rent apartments and buy gasoline. They also pay sales tax, which means they support local programs from which they do not wholly benefit.
Of course, there are the old ‘nativist’ saws – immigrants take the jobs of “real” Americans and don’t speak the language. The notion that immigrants take jobs from a population is simply untrue. This flawed idea, which economists refer to as the lump of labor fallacy, assumes the amount of available labor to be constant. In reality, the amount of available labor is not concretized and rather fluctuates in a market economy.
Also, it seems immigrants want to learn English. An article on the Orlando Sentinel Web site suggests immigrants are taking this step, as they see knowledge of the language as a key to financial success. This same article goes on to cite the waiting lists at English education institutes, as well as the seeming popularity of products like “Ingles Sin Barreras” – or “English Without Barriers” – as evidence of this willingness.
Understandably, the presence of an open, unprotected border and uncurtailed passage through that border does present a danger to national security. But to secure that border does not require that Americans isolate themselves from the tremendous opportunities immigrants bring with them.
The way to successfully scrutinize applicants for citizenship is to give incentives for going through the citizenship process, as opposed to the particularly acute disincentives that are offered, such as red tape and lengthy waits. The government should grant citizenship to any party that carries neither a communicable disease nor an outstanding criminal offense.
After all, only immigrants who meet these criteria actually pose a threat to the United States.
If America was to reform its system in such a way, the government could more accurately direct its resources to protecting U.S. borders and in turn, the nation, from its true enemies. Immigrants who wish to obtain U.S. residency illegally despite such positive reforms are the parties for which concern and suspicion should properly be directed.
Historically, immigrants have provided immeasurable good for America as they have performed the laudable act of seeking good for themselves. It is impossible to say that the imprints people such as Andrew Carnegie and John A. Roebling left upon this nation were in any way detrimental to the freedom Americans so greatly value, or that they perpetuated backwardness or cultural decline. Instead, it is more accurate to recognize that the immigrants of yesterday, just as much as today’s immigrants, exemplify the truly American values of independence and self-betterment.
Victoria Bekiempis is a sophomore majoring in history and french