STIRRETT: Integrating Immigrants
A Canadian Contention
Published: Thursday, February 2, 2012
Updated: Friday, February 3, 2012 00:02
The immigrant ethos pervades all aspects of American society, from the concept of birthright citizenship to the mythology of Ellis Island. Some can trace their lineage in this country back almost 400 years, while other families are just arriving in the United States. Because immigration has always been a part of U.S. tradition, it is ironic that the American immigration system is broken and in desperate need of fixing.
Few disagree that one of America's greatest assets is its diversity. Walking down the street you encounter people who can trace their ancestry to countries all over the world. This diversity does not just make the United States an interesting country to live in; it also gives the nation unique competitive advantages. Many of America's greatest minds, from Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, to former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, are immigrants. Whether it is in intellectual life or in business, immigrants invigorate the United States with their different perspectives and unique outlooks.
Too often in American history, certain figures and groups have embraced xenophobia, using immigrants as convenient scapegoats. From the mistreatment of Irish immigrants in the 19th century to discrimination against Hispanics today, this trend has been a disturbing aspect of public life.
Creating smart immigration policies will be integral for the United States to progress. Reforming how the United States admits highly skilled immigrants should be one of the country's top priorities. In his State of the Union address Jan. 24, President Obama remarked on how illogical it is for the United States to train hundreds of thousands of foreign students only to send them back home because of stringent immigration rules.
According to the United States Census Bureau, almost one-third of all Americans who possess engineering degrees are, in fact, foreign-born. But foreigners who receive technical PhDs in the United States are returning to their native countries in ever-greater numbers. More needs to be done to increase the number of work visas for highly skilled immigrants so that the United States does not invest resources in their training without benefiting from their ventures and skills in return.
On the flip side, illegal immigration also remains a persistent problem in the United States. A Pew Hispanic Center report found that as of 2009, there were 11.1 million individuals living illegally in the United States.
Especially for those in the United States illegally who live in constant fear of being deported, this status quo is untenable. There are also costs to the American government, in terms of resources used and taxes unpaid. At the same time, illegal immigrants provide massive contributions to the U.S. economy and take on jobs that many American citizens do not want.
Congress should work to put these millions of hardworking immigrants on a path to citizenship. This does not mean granting blanket amnesty. Those presently in the United States illegally should have to go through an application process, like the millions who wait in line and enter the United States legally.
More needs to be done to reduce the number of people trying to illegally enter the United States as well. At the moment, the United States accepts roughly one million legal immigrants per year, which may sound like a lot but is only about one-third to one-half of Canada's immigrant acceptance rate. By increasing the legal rate of immigration and security at the border, the United States could encourage illegal immigrants to follow the proper legal process.
Coming from Canada, I have often found it difficult to understand some of the hostility toward immigration. In my home province of Nova Scotia, the government has been working for years assiduously to increase the number of immigrants. Among the different Canadian provinces, it is a source of pride to see who can attract the most newcomers.
The American government has a moral and strategic imperative to end this unsustainable system. Passing comprehensive immigration reform will result in a surge of skilled workers and new businesses and will convert those who are here illegally into taxpayers and citizens.
Immigration has always been a defining aspect of the United States. It's time to create an effective immigration system, one that can benefit both new and old Americans.
Scott Stirrett is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He is the former chief of staff of the Georgetown University College Democrats and former chair and co-founder of D.C. Students Speak. A CANADIAN CONTENTION appears every other Friday.