Woody Guthrie’s 1940s folk song “This Land is Your Land” was revived in the ‘60s - just in time to help young baby boomers seeking backseat means to torture their parents on family road trips. Trips that – at least in a child’s mind - stretched from California to the New York Island.
Our family rumbled along in a boat-length Chrysler station wagon affectionately called the “Green Dragon” and captained by my father, who arrived in the U.S. after World War II with nothing but the proverbial steamer trunk. He’s keen to explore the far corners of the country he loves so much and in distant years somehow tolerated the soda-exploding, one-hundred-bottles-of-beer-droning company of his offspring.
And, yes, if you’re wondering, my dad did make it in the U.S., joining the large ranks of immigrants before him who realized their individual American Dreams, helping a lot of other people along the way and making this country a better place in the process. Okay, I’m a little biased toward immigration. I wouldn’t be here without it, so don’t take my word for it. The Partnership for a New American Economy, a nonpartisan group dedicated to immigration reform, recently reported that more than 40 percent of 2010 Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.
Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants or first-generation Americans employ more than 10 million people worldwide, have a combined revenue of $4.2 trillion and have created some of the nation’s most valuable brands including eBay and Google. It’s hard to deny the contributions immigration continues to make to the U.S. economy, yet many Americans want to shut the door to a future Herman Hollerith or Thomas J. Watson, both immigrants and founding fathers of an enterprise that would become IBM.
Folks opposed to immigration tend to see new arrivals as a drain on public resources or competition for scarce jobs, but a recent study by the American Enterprise Institute, or AEI, suggests immigration can boost our sagging economy through innovation and job growth. According to the institute, the addition of 100 immigrants with science and technology degrees results in an additional 86 jobs for U.S. natives. These non-native scientists and engineers hold a disproportionately high number of patents leading to the creation of new businesses and new jobs, according to the AEI, which found that lower-skilled nonagricultural immigrants also provide economic stimulus leading to additional jobs.
Highly educated immigrants pay more than $22,500 in wage-related taxes, while their families receive less than one-tenth back in programs such as Medicaid, according to the AEI. Millionaire Corner research shows that 11 percent of Americans at the upper wealth tiers – those with $25 million or more - were born outside the United States. More than one-fourth had parents who immigrated to the U.S. and more than 40 percent, grandparents.
Contrary to negative stereotypes, immigrants create jobs and pay their share of taxes, yet opposition to both legal and illegal immigration persists in the land that was made for you and me. Perhaps Americans forget how tightly immigration is woven into the fabric of our lives. A few weeks ago, my book club was trying to make sense of the fate suffered by Japanese Americans during World War II. The events, touchingly depicted in The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, caused us all to reflect on our immigrant past.
Our group members - unified by our love of books (and food and wine), come from – literally – all corners of the earth. We boast an engineer from Egypt, a physician from India, a small business owner from Germany – and those are just the new arrivals. Most of the rest of us are sons and daughters of immigrants, or have married into an immigrant family. What about your family, friends, in-laws, classmates, co-workers?
Less frequently sung lyrics by Woody Guthrie describe barriers to the American Dream:
I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!”
Which side are you on?