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Friday, November 18, 2016

America and Immigrants

This provoked what follows:

I'm teaching US economic history this semester, and we've been talking a lot about immigration historically. But it means that I have had to look up some numbers, and here's one of them:

Between 1985 and 2014 (the most recent year for which I have data, the total number of people admitted to the US as permanent residents (these are all legal immigrants) amount to 36% of the increase in the population of the US between 1985 and 2014. (Note that this does not include any children of those legal immigrants; it obviously does not include any other immigrants--those on tourist or student visas, those who have entered the country in other ways).

Over 1/3 of out population growth in the last 30 years is directly attributable to legal immigration.

Now I look at this, and I look at what we know about the population and employment dynamics of the US economy, and I would say "Thank god for those immigrants" (if I believed in god). Because the percentage of the US population over age 65 (or 70, or 75, o8 80...) has risen, and will continue to rise, rapidly. And many of those immigrants are employed caring for people my age and older--in many cases, the parents or grandparents of people who so vocally condemn immigration in all its forms. Purely out of self interest, they (and I) should welcome those immigrants.

We've also talked about how immigrants--beginning with the Irish int he 1840s, and continuing with immigrants from eastern and southern Europe later in the nineteenth century, and immmigrants from Asia as well, were regarded as dangerous, or degraded, or not "really" human or good enough to be here. Now, the rhetoric is the same, but applied to a different group of people, people who are coming here for the same reasons--because this is a country where hope and opportunity have been beacons to people from countries where hope has been lost, and opportunity is, well, a dream.

So the anti-immigrant rhetoric and posturing--and policies--are a retreat from what truly did make America great--our welcoming of people who want to be here, who have over the last 200 years sacrificed to be here, and have made this a better, richer, more complex, and more interesting country.


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