Supporters of restrictions on immigration into the United States, or those who look on immigrants with alarm and suspicion, may hold the levers of power in Washington, D.C., right now, but they almost certainly don’t hold the future.
A poll released earlier this month by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal found that 64 percent of Americans believe that immigration makes the country stronger. Study after study has shown that immigrants bring energy and entrepreneurial moxie to our economy, commit fewer crimes than native citizens and are an asset to the communities in which they live. Rather than slamming our doors shut and cowering in fear, we should welcome the contributions immigrants can make to this country.
Some of those immigrants were at the Washington County Courthouse Friday at lunchtime. For the first time in more than 12 years, Washington hosted a naturalization ceremony for 17 residents of the Pittsburgh region who have passed a naturalization test that measures knowledge of civics and English and have lived in the United States at least five years (or three if they are married to a citizen). By swearing a simple oath, they became as American as anyone who has waved the flag on the Fourth of July for decades or whose family landed here on the Mayflower.
The freshly minted citizens included former denizens of Bhutan, Canada, Jordan and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Among them was Jintao Wang, who came to the United States in 2002 from China, earned a doctorate and is now on the computer science faculty at the University of Pittsburgh.
Katherine Emery, the county’s president judge, pointed out to the new citizens they are part of a group of naturalized citizens that includes Madeleine Albright, a secretary of state during the administration of Bill Clinton, and Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux. Some others are Nobel Prize winners in a variety of fields. The list of naturalized citizens who came from other places and enriched our culture is lengthy, encompassing such worthies as Albert Einstein, Marcel Duchamp, Isabel Allende and Frank Capra.
“The richness of the diversity this group provides to America defines who we are as a nation,” Emery said. “Open to new ideas … respecting all religions and creeds, embracing all, and protecting those in need.”
All told, there are 20 million naturalized citizens in the United States, with a little more than 700,000 taking the oath last year. A proposal recently offered by U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, and David Perdue, a Georgia Republican, would, among other things, slice legal immigration in half. This would be bad news for our economy, since we have an aging population that is not being replenished by a sufficient number of newborns, and a wound to our country’s spirit. Such restrictions, if they become law, could keep someone with brains and talent like Jintao from coming to our country. It would also send a discouraging message to other immigrants who are considering where they want to take their gifts. The United States would essentially be saying that it is a static, shuttered society, not one that is expansive and open.
What does or does not make America great has been a point of contention since last year’s divisive presidential campaign. What happened at the Washington County Courthouse last Friday is a superb example of what does.