The 2nd annual Xavier University State of the American Dream Survey shows that whatever conflict may exist concerning immigration, 60% of Americans still believe that "immigration --- diverse groups coming to America for a better life --- is important for keeping the American Dream alive."
While America has always attracted immigrants it has not always welcomed them warmly.
In the late 18th Century, there was a massive emigration to American cities. In 1749 alone, German immigrants to Philadelphia nearly equaled the city’s resident population. While he later changed his view, Ben Franklin, whose father was an immigrant, initially felt an overwhelming sense of encroachment:
“This will in a few years time become a German colony; instead of their learning our Language, we must learn theirs or live as in a foreign country.”
In Lincoln’s time the American population swelled through immigration by 15% in 1845 alone. The "Know Nothing Party" was established to fight immigration, especially of Irish Catholics prompting Lincoln to say:
“Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid...we began by declaring that all men are created equal’… When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners and catholics’. When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty...”
There is currently an acceleration of immigrant resistance. Some people falsely believe that immigrants get special treatment like free housing and business loans unavailable to native born Americans. Yet the Dream Survey showed by a ratio of 2:1 that immigrants over the general sample believed that "hard work" was the way to get ahead in America.
No one nation, including the United States, has the in-house creative talent to rule the economic world forever. Look at our history and the legendary creative fire given us by immigrants. America has traditionally supplied the oxygen necessary to ignite and keep that fire burning. Perhaps the greatest measurable impact of immigrants can be found in the entrepreneurial world where success requires a certain fearlessness, vision and determination which many immigrants bring with them. They provide it to the country. The country doesn't provide it to them.
Research at the Kauffman Foundation found that in 25% of the U.S. science and technology companies the chief executive or lead technologist was foreign-born. In Silicon Valley, the percentage of immigrant-founded startups was 52 percent. These immigrant founders are highly educated—96 percent held bachelor's degrees and 74 percent held graduate or postgraduate degrees mostly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-related fields. The vast majority of these company founders didn't come to the United States as entrepreneurs—52 percent came to study and 40 percent came to work. Only 1.6 percent came to start companies. But they typically ended up starting their companies within a decade after arriving in the US.
Amidst anti-immigrant rumblings, our ability to compete for global talent is simultaneously being challenged by other economies and most unforgivably by our own prejudice. Meanwhile, for the first time since WW II, the Dream Survey indicates that 57% of us believe the future will be created somewhere other than the U.S. Contributing to this concern we have a brain drain that's been seeping for 30 years. Cornell’s Nobel Prize winning physicist, Robert Richardson, says we have a serious scientific manpower problem that’s been developing since the 1970s. “We now rank 23rd in the world in terms of the percentage of our college graduates who become scientists and engineers. Thirty years ago we ranked third.”
There is also a dark undercurrent in these tough economic times manifested in strident resistance to things like the National Dream Act and a number of similar state initiatives. This is partially based on a fear that the children of undocumented immigrants, (even if they pay taxes and complete in-state high school graduation requirements), may "take our slots in public universities.” The same vague references are made about jobs as if either the number of jobs or educational opportunities were a fixed number in an economy committed to growth.
Are we afraid some immigrant children may be more qualified for college? What happened to the meritocracy of the free market system? This kind of intellectual tariff is not in the national interest.