America's Greatness Depends on Immigration

America's Greatness Depends on Immigration

Some people believe that America’s best days are behind her — that in the years ahead, the United States will no longer be the world’s engine of innovation and growth. They say that honor and responsibility will inevitably pass to some other country, as the United States declines. 

But the United States did not grow into the most prosperous nation in history by accident. If Americans remember and preserve the things that have made America great, we can continue to lead the world in innovation and growth.

Immigration is a part of that formula for success. Throughout history, America has been built by the efforts of hardworking and entrepreneurial people from around the globe, even if some native-born citizens focused only on the challenges created by these newcomers. In reality, these immigrants helped to make America wealthier and more successful. That’s still true today.

Immigration is good for America for many reasons. One is that immigration tends to be driven by people who are ambitious and willing to sacrifice. It’s hard to pack up your life and leave your family and community behind to try to build a new life in a strange place. People who come to the United States, by and large, expect to have to adapt and work hard to succeed. Almost every American today can tell a story about an ancestor who came to our shores with little more than hope for America and a willingness to work hard and sacrifice. For the vast majority of those coming to America today, that hasn’t changed.

The numbers make that clear. Creative and entrepreneurial immigrants start small businesses at nearly twice the rate of native-born Americans. And immigrant-owned businesses account for nearly half of the growth in business ownership between 2000 and 2013. Immigrants and their children also played a major role in founding more than 40 percent of the 2016 Fortune 500 companies.

America directly benefits from immigrants who establish and grow businesses that employ hundreds of thousands of people. What would we do without this initiative and ambition, to say nothing of the jobs they create for all Americans?

Measured as a share of population, legal immigration to the United States is pretty low right now compared to other wealthy countries. People frequently complain that the legal immigration system is complex and time consuming. It will only get worse if Congress cuts legal immigration numbers — as is proposed in a number of bills being considered. We are seeing fewer foreign students choose to come to the United States — instead favoring nations like Canada. This has important ramifications for federal finances. As our national debt continues to grow, reducing the number of young workers who come to America will only make that problem worse.

The fact is, those who come here from abroad are the same as native-born Americans, at least in one key way: We all possess unique, God-given talents, which can help improve our communities and our world. What makes the United States uniquely successful is that we recognize the value and potential of individuals, empowering them to develop and use their talents for the mutual benefit of all. This is what enables America to accept the “wretched refuse” of foreign shores, and watch them succeed and prosper — a recognition that anyone can build and achieve if given the opportunity. 

It grows clearer by the day that our immigration system has problems that must be addressed — and soon. We need to protect Dreamers, and establish an orderly and compassionate way to adjudicate the claims of families fleeing violence and oppression in Central America and elsewhere. We must enhance border security, and we must review the legal immigration system in order to address the future flow of immigration and prioritize admission of those who will make our communities stronger and more prosperous.

But as we do these things, we must not abandon one of the constants in America’s extraordinary success story. We must continue to welcome the entrepreneurship, sacrifice, and hard work of newcomers. America has always been a shining city on a hill — and a model of success for the world. If we fix what is broken in our immigration system while keeping what is essential, America will remain that beacon of hope that the world will always need. 

Daniel Garza is president of the Libre Initiative. This column previously ran in Spanish at Univision.com.

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