With every wave of immigration to America, our country has grown stronger. That’s not an opinion. That’s a fact. If there has been a secret to the incredible American success story, it is this— when America has welcomed immigrants, America and her people have prospered. Curtail immigration and our economic growth will diminish in kind. We are pretty much the only advanced nation that has not been plagued by a diminishing citizen population. That’s entirely the result of our immigrant citizens’ families. One thing that has always been true, they produce more children and they buy more of what growing families buy. Immigration is not a drag on our economy, it fuels our economy. When a country’s population declines, the country’s fortunes decline commensurately. We depend on immigration for economic growth and for labor. But most of all, we depend on immigration to replenish the human capital that has made America great. Almost every industry in America is reporting substantial labor shortages, yet many buy into the nativist trope that immigration puts American jobs at risk.
Immigration has not only produced workers for American enterprise, but immigrants have also produced many of the enterprises that keep America’s economy first among the nations. Forty-three percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Fifty-seven percent of the top thirty-five Fortune 500 companies have been founded or co-founded by immigrants or children of immigrants. Think about that. Immigrants not only supply workers for a growing economy, but they are also more likely to start a business then are their native-born countrymen.
Let us share with you the story of one immigrant family. We’ll use their Americanized given names. Fred George Gong and his wife, May Law Gong, came to America from China by way of Mexico early in the twentieth century. Yes, they came during the time the odious Chinese Exclusionary Act forbade immigration from China. They ultimately settled in Portland Oregon’s Chinatown, worked hard, paid their taxes and had five children. The children, of course, were American citizens, so-called birthright citizens that our President mocks and vows to eliminate.
Fred and May Gong became activists in Portland’s Chinatown. They warned against the dangers of gambling which was rampant there, and they worked hard, very hard, raising money to resist the rape of China by Japan in the late thirties. That’s about the time our country initiated deportation proceedings against Fred and May Gong, insisting that they return to China. Their children, well, they could leave them in the United States because they were, after all, American Citizens, but their parents would have to go back to China (and to their certain deaths at the hands of the Japanese). By then, the Gongs had four American-born children, and May was pregnant with her fifth child. A young civil rights lawyer rallied the Portland community behind the Gong family and under intense public pressure, the US government relented and allowed the Gongs to remain as Mexican immigrants (remember, they couldn’t be admitted as immigrants from China because of the stupid, and very racist, Chinese exclusionary Act).
So, what became of the Gong family? Well, their oldest son, Peter, became a leading forensic chemist for the Los Angeles Police Department. Another son, Henry, became a prominent surgeon in San Bernardino, California. A daughter, Elizabeth, became a concert pianist, and Fred Jr. joined the Army Air Corps as soon as he graduated from high school. Fred Jr. went on to become one of the most distinguished aviators during World War Two. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and other high honors for flying and surviving 200 combat missions over Nazi-occupied Europe, a feat that was almost impossible to accomplish, let alone live to tell about it. Fred Gong’s most treasured honor, he told anyone who would listen, was flying for America during wartime. His most treasured possessions? — the medals a grateful nation awarded to him for his service. Nothing could have kept Fred from enlisting during the war, not even bone spurs.
Fred died recently at age 94 in a VA hospital in Los Angeles. There was one more child in the Gong family, the family that our government tried so hard to banish from America. That would be my dear friend Michael Gong. Michael married his sweetheart, Cindy, who he met at UCLA. He too served in the armed forces and, later, went on to become an Art History professor. Michael and Cindy have two children. One, Cameron, tutors American high-school students. Cameron’s sister Jennifer is an attorney and a world-class human rights and immigrant rights lawyer. She has won landmark political asylum cases protecting children who had been trafficked into the United States. Jennifer is also our daughter-in-law, married to our son, Michael, and she will most likely soon become the elected representative to the Illinois General Assembly from the State’s 17th legislative district.
Are all immigrants model citizens? Of course not, although immigrants do manage to be more law-abiding than our non-immigrant, native-born citizens. There have always been nativists, demagogues and irresponsible politicians among us who target immigrants and outrageously impugn to them all manner of societal problems. That is a calumny, a smear, a libel.
America should, each and every day, celebrate the contributions immigrants have made to our country.
So today, we write In praise of America’s immigrants.
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