America has plenty to go around

Elton Wong

I was looking through the Des Moines Register the other day when I came upon an ad that was mildly disconcerting. It was sponsored by some organization called the American Immigration Control Foundation, and it featured the question “Is Mass Immigration Sinking America?”

Behind the one-inch type was a picture of the statue of liberty half submerged in New York Harbor.

I briefly wondered whether this graphic was intended to illustrate the “sinking” phenomenon alluded to in the headline or to cover up the decidedly pro-immigration poem inscribed at the base of the statue. Deciding that the meaning was ambiguous, I turned my attention to the rest of the ad.

The next feature that stood out was a graph in the lower right-hand corner which had the mini headline “It’s A Fact!” written over it in big block letters, like a caption from an informercial for the George Foreman Grill.

This graph displayed the United States population from 1970 to the projected count in 2050.

On the bottom, there was a thin sliver of white, which indicated the population of Americans and their descendants, without immigrants. On top of this was a fat, black space that indicated the people who have and will be added to the country.

“Jesus!” I thought. “It looks like those immigrant folk are going to completely drown out the few remaining real Americans!”

Then I took a closer look; it turns out that the y-axis of the graph starts at 200 million people, which effectively omits from the display 90 percent of the “native” American population.

You have to admit, though, that it made the immigration part of the display look a lot more threatening, being all big and black in comparison.

I turned my attention to the text of the ad. It was the basic anti-immigrant stuff, about how they’re overcrowding our schools and clogging our traffic. It claimed that the U.S. government admits one million legal immigrants a year.

On Wednesday last week, an organization called The Center for Immigration Studies published a study that found that immigrant levels of entrepreneurship have for the first time fallen below the entrepreneur rate of “native” Americans.

Although immigrants from certain areas/nations (Korea, the Middle East and India) are more likely to start their own businesses than the “natives.” Immigrants, taken as a whole, are not on par. Also, it turns out that there are one million immigrants coming to America per year only if you count illegal as well as legal immigrants.

This study was the subject of much talk among immigration groups. One such group is the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank that is pro-immigration.

The leader of the Cato Institute, Stephen Moore, cautioned against drawing premature conclusions from the study by the Center for Immigration Studies.

“The point we’ve made is that many immigrant businesses in the country are extremely successful,” Moore said in an interview given to the Wall Street Journal.

He pointed to one of his own studies conducted in 1997, which noted that 10 companies with at least one immigrant founder (including Intel, Sun Microsystems and others) had collective revenues of $27.9 billion for that year.

A related study released last week noted that whites constitute only 49 percent of the fast-growth Silicon Valley counties of San Mateo and Santa Clara.

“The high-tech sector of our economy would be radically diminished if we didn’t have the immigrant talent that we do,” Moore said.

All this economic discussion is interesting, but I think that it does not get at the base of why immigration is important for America. The ad in the Des Moines Register, with an us-vs.-them presentation, also misses the point. The point is this: there is no “us,” and there is no “them.”

As conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza has pointed out, America is the only nation in the history of the world that is defined by immigration.

For instance, a guy from Canada could move to India and live there his whole life.

He could eat Indian food, learn Hindi and absorb the cultural customs.

In spite of all of this, the Canadian could never become an Indian. It would simply not happen.

In the United States, however, anyone can become an American.

That is one of the most unique and valuable things about this country.

The American experience itself is essentially one of immigration and forging a new identity in a new place. We ought to keep this in mind.

However, the Register ad, despite its generally misleading, ignorant and xenophobic nature, should not keep us from seeing the potential problems that could result from bad immigration policy.

There is some truth to the claim, I think, that immigrant groups can tend to isolate themselves to the detriment of the state as a whole. Unity ought to be our goal, not in the sense of homogeneity of thought, but in the sense that all Americans ought to be dedicated to basic values of political and intellectual freedom. There must be dialog and communication.

I think D’Souza was right when he said that America is unusual in that it allows its citizens to “write the script to their own lives.”

It doesn’t make sense to excessively limit this opportunity. There is plenty to go around.

Elton Wong is a junior in biology and philosophy from Ames.