Immigration is in our DNA

Photo by tom coe on Unsplash

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt

At this moment, while our country struggles with a border wall and the deaths of two child migrants in U.S. custody, it is ironic that many of us are giving or getting the gift of a DNA analysis.  More people took genetic ancestry tests in 2017 than in all previous years combined.[1]  This year, their number skyrocketed, with some estimates as high as 22 million.[2]

What do all these tests show?  That we all came from a country other than the United States.  Because an immigrant is defined as “a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence,”[3] that means that we or our ancestors are all immigrants.  Many came hoping for a better life economically; others came here for religious freedom.[4]  And some came to escape political oppression.[5]  Others try to escape violence, some resulting at least in part from U.S. policy.[6]  In Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, America has played a role in unleashing a wave of violence there.[7]

While we are busy discovering our origins outside this country, the current administration is working to ensure that people from other countries are kept out.  It wants to cut immigration by 44%, eliminating half a million legal immigrants per year.[8]  President Trump is willing to shut down the government to get a wall between the United States and Mexico.  And he wants to end chain migration that permits immigration based on family ties in the U.S. and the visa lottery, where immigrants are selected at random.[9]  Instead, President Trump wants a merit-based system to admit only those workers who are skilled and want to work.[10]  But that strategy ignores a shortage of labor at every skill level across the country.[11]

Despite advocating for a merit-based system, the Trump administration has restricted the issuance of H-1B visas to highly skilled workers and plans to rescind the rule that lets their spouses work here.[12]  It also plans to make it impossible or nearly so for students to remain here after graduation or entrepreneurs to start businesses in this country.[13]

While the Trump administration opposes immigration, most Americans do not.  In fact, 75% of us believe that immigration is generally good for this country.[14]  And 70% of Americans believe that immigration should not be decreased.[15]

And we should favor immigration.  After all, if the current administration had been in office when our ancestors came to this country, they would have been turned back.  We would not be here, if we exist at all since our ancestor couples would never have met here.

That is not to say that we should leave our door open to anyone who wants to come in.  Immigration should be controlled.  Changes need to be made but not those currently in force and planned by the current administration.  Closing our doors to everyone is not the answer.

While many of us picture immigrants as unskilled and coming from Mexico, that is not always the case.  Only 26% are from Mexico, less than the number coming from South and East Asia at 27%.[16]

And most immigrants are not unskilled.  In fact, 50% of immigrants have bachelor’s degrees, and 13% of immigrants have advanced degrees compared to 12% of Americans.[17]  Although STEM[18] graduates who stay in the U.S. instead of returning to their home country stimulate the economy, only about half of those receiving STEM doctorates are permitted to stay.[19]  Not only do we lose the economic benefits of these graduates, we also lose practicing doctors to fill a shortage in that field.[20]  Immigrants are also involved in filing about 76% of all patents from top patent-producing universities.[21]  Since 2000, 40% of all Nobel Prize winners were born outside of this country – as were all six in 2016.[22]

Not only do immigrants achieve academically, they are good for business, too.  For example, 51% of companies worth $1 billion or more have founders that were born outside of this country.[23]  Founders from outside this country also created around 33,000 jobs.[24]  Immigrants opened around a quarter of all new businesses here, and 40% of all Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or the child of immigrants.[25]

In short, immigration is not a threat to our country.  It was good for all Americans when we or our ancestors came here, and it is good now.

[1] Antonio Regalado, 2017 was the year consumer DNA testing blew up, MIT Technology Review, February 12, 2018.

[2] Lucy Ash, The Christmas Present that could tear your family apart, BBC News, December 20, 2018.

[3] Merriam-Webster.

[4] editors, U.S. Immigration Before 1965,, October 29, 2009.

[5] Id.

[6] Gabriel M. Schivone, Why are Guatemalans seeking asylum?  US policy is to blame, The Guardian, December 23, 2018.

[7] Julian Borger, Fleeing a hell the US helped create: why Central Americans journey north, The Guardian, December 19, 2018.

[8] Stuart Anderson, Right Now, ‘Merit-Based’ Just Means Fewer Immigrants, Forbes, February 12, 2018.

[9], National Security Threats – Chain Migration and the Visa Lottery System, February 1, 2018.

[10] Leonid Bershidsky, Merit-Based Immigrants Aren’t the Most Successful Citizens, Bloomberg, October 31, 2018.

[11] Stuart Anderson, Right Now, ‘Merit-Based’ Just Means Fewer Immigrants, Forbes, February 12, 2018.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Niraj Chokshi, 75% of Americans Say Immigration Is Good for Country, Poll Finds, The New York times, June 23, 2018.

[15] Author unknown, Shifting Public Views on Legal Immigration Into the U.S., Pew Research Center, June 28, 2018.

[16] Gustavo Lopez, Kristin Bialik, and Jynnah Radford, Key findings about U.S. immigrants, Pew Research Center, November 30, 2018.

[17] Ryan McCready, 15 Charts Explaining Why Immigration is Good for Innovation, Venngage, February 7, 2017.

[18] Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

[19] Ryan McCready, 15 Charts Explaining Why Immigration is Good for Innovation, Venngage, February 7, 2017.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Ryan McCready, 15 Charts Explaining Why Immigration is Good for Innovation, Venngage, February 7, 2017.

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