Curing America’s Xenophobia

What disturbs me most about the often bitter arguments regarding America’s immigration policies is we continue to disregard the millions of immigrants that have contributed to our leadership in science, product innovation, medicine, computers and literature.   We have a short memory in this country, considering that nearly all of us originally came from somewhere else.  The difference is most of us chose to seek legal citizenship.

I read an interesting essay recently by Darrell West, in which he pointed out that:  “In the years leading up to World War II, the United States recruited top talent for our nuclear programs.  Scientists such as Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi and Edward Teller immigrated to America and played an instrumental role in securing our country’s future and developing its nuclear advantage.”

Can you imagine if we did that today?  Think what it would mean, for instance, if we jump-started  our alternative energy program by scouring the world for the best minds in battery technology, solar power, artificial fuels, clean coal and all manners of energy options that would wean us off of foreign oil.   Then we could fast track their visas so that they could work here legally, ultimately leading to citizenship so we keep that technology in the United States.

This isn’t a pipe dream.  Research has revealed  that twenty-five percent of all the technology and engineering businesses launched in the US between 1995 and 2005 were started by immigrants.   Today, sadly, only fifteen percent of our annual visas are set aside for employment purposes.  That means that many talented foreign citizens who want to build their careers in America are investing their brain power with other countries.

I recognize that this is not the solution for dealing with twelve million illegal immigrants in this country, but isn’t it about time we re-examine the power of legal immigration and stop demonizing our immigrants?   We should not let border security cloud our thinking when it comes to looking at the broader picture of immigration.   For this country to stay competitive in the global marketplace, we need to vastly improve our education system, but in the meantime, we need to recruit the best and brightest thinkers from around the world.  And while they are solving technology challenges, maybe someone will come up with the solution to a new and workable immigration policy.

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