By Richard Gilder
Published August 3, 2004
Ronald Reagan once said a foreigner can go to Germany and never
become a German, to France and never become French, to Britain
and never become English. America is the only nation where a
person can move and become an American.
That is why one of the most momentous policy decisions
Congress will make this year deals with immigration reform. Who
should we allow to become an American? And how many newcomers
should we accept?
These are vital questions President Bush has been trying to
answer with his latest immigration proposal. His plan would
allow a guest worker program for industries like agriculture
that depend on migrant labor. In a few weeks, Congress will vote
on one variation of that bill, sponsored by Republicans Larry
Craig of Idaho in the Senate and Chris Cannon of Utah in the
House. This bill will provide vitally necessary workers for our
farmers and will admit these workers in a humane, legal and
orderly way that provides them the full protections immigrant
workers should receive. This bill will ensure agriculture
workers in the U.S. have legal rather than illegal status and
our farm economy remains internationally competitive.
It is also critical, while passing this new agriculture
worker bill, the federal government step up enforcement of
existing laws to discourage continued illegal immigration.
The overwhelming economic evidence -- from distinguished
groups such as the Federal Reserve Board, to the congressional
Joint Economic Committee, to the National Research Council --
confirms the U.S. economy benefits from immigration.
No nation has widened its gates to newcomers with greater
generosity than the United States over the past 25 years. Over
that period, we admitted nearly 20 million new Americans -- from
every part of the globe. That is more immigrants than were
admitted by all other industrialized countries combined.
The percentage of Americans not born here has risen from 6
percent in 1970 to 11 percent today. That is a lot of additional
people, but it's also worth noting that in many times in our
past 15 percent to 20 percent of our population was foreign
born. We are less a nation of immigrants today than we were in
the first half of the 20th century.
Some in Congress, like Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado
Republican, want an immediate moratorium on immigration.
Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan worries our nation is
having "an alien invasion" corrupt our culture and damage our
Fortunately, he is wrong. After all, over the last two
decades the U.S. economy has surged faster than any of our major
competitors, such as Japan, Germany and France.
Though we have admitted millions of new immigrant workers,
we created more jobs in the U.S. than the rest of the
industrialized world combined -- and our unemployment has
fallen. Our free market economy has shown a wonderful capacity
to absorb new hard-working immigrants into our labor force. Over
this same period, the poverty rate in America has fallen and
median family wealth has risen to a record level.
Immigrants enrich us with their vitality, their
tireless work ethic, their talents, entrepreneurial spirit, and
-- perhaps most important of all -- their appreciation of the
freedoms and economic opportunities we as Americans by birth too
often take entirely for granted. It is not uncommon for
newly sworn in citizens to kiss the ground in appreciation of
their new homeland.
With all due respect to Emma Lazarus and her beautiful poem
at the Statue of Liberty, the immigrants who come here are not
the "wretched refuse" or the poor, huddled masses" but rather
the best and the brightest and hardest-working from every
Not long ago T.J. Rodgers, president of Cypress
Seminconductors noted that without immigrant brainpower, "there
would never have been the entrepreneurial explosion in Silicon
Valley we've seen over the last 20 years."
That has been our formula for economic success. More than
any other nation, we allow the dispossessed from around the
world come here and build a better life.
Certainly America needs to protect its borders and keep out
undesirables -- those who would commit crimes, especially acts
of terrorism, or want to abuse our welfare system. But if
America is to remain prosperous and free, we must keep our
Golden Gates wide open -- whether for low-skilled Mexican
migrant workers, or highly trained scientists and engineers from
Europe, or refugees fleeing religious and political persecution
from tyrannical governments. Former U.S. Ambassador to the
United Nations Jeanne Kirkpatrick once wrote that anyone born
here who believes he is more an American than those who have
just arrived by choice, doesn't really understand what America
is all about.
By accepting immigrants, we not only make their lives better
and freer, we enrich our own lives as well. That is why we
support the agriculture worker bill and seek its swift passage.
Richard Gilder is chairman of the Club for Growth.
Stephen Moore is the Club's president.
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