February 4, 2017

Embrace Immigrants As Though America Needs Them

by Hal Gershowitz

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Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsBecause we really do.

No, we’re not talking about the work no one wants to do. We’re talking about the creation of work everyone wants to do.

I had the privilege once again this year of working with Bret Stephens at the superb Rancho Mirage Writer’s Festival. Stephens is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and the Wall Street Journal foreign-affairs columnist and deputy editor of the Journal’s editorial pages.

Bret shared a bit of his family’s history with the audience. His mother was an immigrant who arrived in America in 1950, as an impoverished, ten-year-old child, a displaced person who had survived the ravages of World War Two. His grandparents had fled the Bolsheviks in Russia and the Nazis in Germany. His mother was born in Fascist Italy in 1940. Sixty-three years later she accompanied her son, Bret, when he received his Pulitzer Prize at a ceremony at Columbia University.

Stephens delivered the keynote address on the first night of the Writers Festival. President Trump had just signed the Executive Order, essentially, banning Muslims from seven countries from immigrating as refugees to the United States, an order that has just been stayed by a federal Judge as we go to press.

Those who had been barred from entering the United States were all refugees who had been previously vetted and approved by our government. Stephens tore up his prepared remarks and, instead, addressed the role immigrants have played in the great American success story.  Rarely, have I ever witnessed an audience as spellbound as was this gathering listening to this son of an immigrant.

Stephens reminded his audience that the United States has won approximately 40% of all the Nobel Prizes ever awarded, and 30% of America’s Nobel prizes were won by first generation immigrants—foreign born scientists, statesman and writers, including refugees like Henry Kissinger or chemistry Nobelist Martin Karplus, after whom the Karptlus equation is named which describes the chemical basis of proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

Of the Fortune 500 companies, 90 were founded by immigrants and another 114 by the children of immigrants. Stephens named as examples Sergei Brin of Google, Andy Grove of Intel, Daniel Aaron of Comcast. These immigrants or sons of immigrants created enterprises with accumulated combined revenues of trillions, which is more than the GDP of most countries in the world, and, of course, they employ tens of thousands, and the industries that their ingenuity has made possible employ millions.

Stephens, of course, was just scratching the surface.

In fact, Fortune 500 companies, founded by immigrants employed 3.6 million workers worldwide in 2011, and produced $1.7 trillion in revenues the year before, according to the Partnership for A New American Economy.

A report published in 2010 found that immigrants are more than twice as likely start a business as someone born in America. In fact, one in ten American workers were employed by immigrant-run businesses

According to a recent report by the National Foundation for American Policy, immigrants have started more than half (44 of 87) of America’s startup companies valued at $1 billion dollars or more and are key members of management or product development teams in over 70 percent (62 of 87) of these start-up companies. According to the report, immigrant-founded start-up companies in America worth more than a billion dollars today have created an average of 760 jobs per company. The collective value of the 44 immigrant-founded start-up companies studied is $168 billion, which approximates about half the value of the stock markets of Russia or Mexico.

Stephens concluded his address by asking a series of questions that every civics teacher (we presume schools still teach civics) should ponder. These are the questions, the answers to which will define whether America’s future will be defined by growth, prosperity and equality or the fading embers of a once great nation.

1) What is our attitude toward foreigners? Are we a country that seeks and attracts immigrants, or do we see them as threats to our culture, economy and security?

2) What is our attitude toward failure? When we fail, do we tend to first blame ourselves and ask, ‘How can we make this right’? Or do we blame others, and adopt the attitude of ‘who did this to us’?

3) What is our attitude toward global leadership? Do we put our values first, as we did when we saved West Berlin, and then define our interests accordingly? Or do we put our “interests” first, in the sense of what’s materially good for us irrespective of values? In other words, do we believe in leading the world so that all may benefit from that leadership, or do we think, “America First”?

4) What is our attitude toward change? Do we believe in and foster innovation? Or do we strangle it through regulation? Do we believe in the value of free trade, acknowledging that the inevitable costs are outpaced by the larger benefits?

5) What is our attitude toward each other? Do we have a healthy civic culture in which we can respect each other’s different opinions, and do we respect bedrock institutions like a free press, that are so essential to the well-being of democracy? Or do we tear ourselves apart by an increasingly cynical and combative attitude toward these institutions?

6) What is our attitude toward the future? Do we see America’s prospects as fundamentally bright? Or will we be a pessimistic nation, fearful about the world and doubtful of our abilities to master the challenges before us?

Stephens concluded his keynote with a prediction. He predicted in the year 2037—20 years from now, that the child of one of the people in the hotel clean-up crew would be speaking at the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival, and that we would all be proud to call him or her our fellow American.

The audience cheered.

Hal Gershowitz’s novels about immigrants available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Kindle, Apple iTunes and Audible.

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3 responses to “Embrace Immigrants As Though America Needs Them”

  1. Richard Rosenfield says:

    The issue is not banning all immigrants. The issue is making sure that the immigrants who come don’t want to do is harm. Historically the people that came to our shores only wanted to be American’s first and last. Hopefully that will continue to be the case

  2. Susan duman says:

    As you, and hopefully others like you, express what they feel and have heard, there’s a good chance this terrible situation will cease sooner rather than later.

  3. David Hanna says:

    Outstanding post gentlemen. The fear mongering behind the Presidential order undermines basic principles of decency and our constitution.
    No one wants to open our country up to murderers and terrorists. There have been no attacks here by any person who circumvented our vetting of refugees from the middle east since Mr. Obama took office, and the claim our borders are wide open to these people is just another alternative fact (lie) to push forward a political agenda and divide our country.
    This is not how a real leader demonstrates they represent all Americans.
    I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate your measured and reasoned responses to actions such as this, and do my best to share your insights across my personal sphere if influence.

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