During a symosium about the future of American immigration policy last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg described the nation’s anti-immigration sentiment as akin to national suicide. “Every day that we fail to fix our broken immigration laws is a day that we inflict a wound on our economy,” he said. “Today, we may have turned away the next Albert Einstein or Sergey Brin. Tomorrow, we may turn away the next Levi Strauss or Jerry Yang.”
We would not have become a global superpower without the contributions of immigrants who built the railroads and canals that opened up the west, who invented groundbreaking products that revolutionized global commerce, and who pioneered scientific, engineering and medical advances that made America the most innovative country in the world.
But make no mistake: we will not remain a global superpower if we continue to close our doors to people who want to come here to work hard, start businesses, and pursue the American Dream. The American Dream cannot survive if we keep telling the dreamers to go elsewhere.
Bloomberg cited a study that found that more than two hundred of America’s five hundred largest businesses were either founded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. “These immigrant rooted companies employ more than ten million people worldwide,” he said, “which is a population larger than forty-three states have. And they generate annual revenue of $4.2 trillion.”
And those are just the Fortune 500 companies. When you look at the economy as a whole, immigrants and their children have been responsible for creating millions more jobs in all fifty states. The reason is simple—immigrants are dreamers and risk takers who are driven to succeed, because they know that in America, hard work and talent are rewarded like nowhere else.
What should be done? Bloomberg advocated the following policies: Allowing foreign students to work in the United States after graduating there; granting foreign entrepreneurs with American investors a temporary visa to start a business in the United States; making it easier for American companies to employ skilled foreign workers; making it easier for major industries like agriculture and tourism to employ foreigners when they can’t find Americans to fill their job vacancies; allocating more green cards based on economic needs instead of family reintegration.
These are all common sense reforms short of amnesty or an open border policy that should prove beneficial to the American economy within a matter of years.
At a time of near record unemployment at home, many Americans may wonder why they should allow laborers from abroad to “take their work” but as Philippe Legrain of Forbes pointed out last year, immigrants don’t steal jobs. “Just as working women haven’t deprived men of jobs, immigrants create jobs as well as filling them—both when they spend their wages and in complementary lines of work.”
“Allowing people to move freely is not just a matter of economic self-interest,” according to Legrain. “It is also a moral imperative.” Freedom of movement is a basic human right that should not be denied to people who had the bad fortunate of being born in a Third World country.
People will always crave freedom and opportunity. America prospered when it admitted foreigners who were willing to work for a living and contribute to the industrial and intellectual development of their new home country. In times of economic hardship, the need for immigrants is all the greater to make the nation’s workforce dynamic again and restore economic growth.