Immigrants Make America Great, In Spite Of Trump’s Rhetoric

Mountains of data and my personal journey as a Ukrainian immigrant contradicts the Trump Administration’s fear-mongering depiction of immigrants.
Original caption: Where The Blame Lies. Judge (to Uncle Sam)–“If Immigration was properly Restricted you would no longer be troubled with Anarchy, Socialism, the Mafia and such kindred evils!” 1891

Original caption: Where The Blame Lies. Judge (to Uncle Sam)–“If Immigration was properly Restricted you would no longer be troubled with Anarchy, Socialism, the Mafia and such kindred evils!” 1891

My first experience of America outside the apartment complex where we dropped off what could generously be called our belongings wasn’t a backyard barbeque or a baseball game. No, one of the very first things I did in the United States was to go to a place famous for its collection of streets made to look as if they were portals to other countries, and have dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Before that day, I knew that Asian countries ate with chopsticks and understood what they were, but have never actually seen a pair up close and personal.

So imagine a boy from an ex-Soviet state that collapsed into lawless chaos after the dissolution of the so-called “Evil Empire,” who talked like Dexter — no, not this one, this one — learning how to use chopsticks to eat food he’s never even heard of, in a place that looked like a collection of Western Europe’s and East Asia’s highlights, getting ready to start a new life — and a long course of steroids to help fix the effects of pollution, chronic respiratory diseases, and mediocre nutrition. That was my first impression of America, that of a place that took potential from around the world and molded it for its future gain.

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Over the next year, I became much stronger and healthier. My halting English became fluent. My parents found jobs with their computer skills. Most of our family moved to the United States, working as computer experts, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and doctors. (We’re quite heavy on STEM fields, which is how I ended up with a career in designing enterprise software.) And none of this is extraordinary. According to a study eagerly suppressed by the cartoon villains who now occupy the White House, most immigrants provide the United States with a massive return on investment, assimilating and adapting to changing economic conditions even faster than the native workforce.

For roughly two decades, most of them spent as a naturalized citizen, I felt like I was very much welcome and wanted in this country. But now, things are rapidly starting to change for the worst possible reasons. Rather than live up to the image America has projected to the world for the last 50 years, welcome those from foreign lands, eager to improve everything from software, to rockets, to food by cherry-picking the best ideas they brought with them, the nation is closing itself off to the world to protect the feelings of xenophobes who view anyone foreign, fluent in a different language, or with darker skin with dread and angst.

To them, America is in crisis, and that crisis is caused by people with funny names daring to set foot on their soil, speak anything other than English within their earshot, and offer new ideas and ways of doing things. In their minds, everything was fine until all these foreigners arrived, so if we were to get rid of them, things would magically get better. Or, at least this is what they’re told by the bigots whose xenophobic tirades they inhale on social media, starting off with the far right equivalent of a soothing joint that’s Fox News, moving on to the opiates that are Breitbart, The Federalist, and Ben Shapiro, then switching to the crystal meth that is Stormfront, 4Chan, and private neo-Nazi Discord groups.

Just consider that Fox News regularly airs segments in which they complain that America has been changed and no one voted for this demographic change to take place. (Of course, we also didn’t vote for the baby boomers, Electoral College, and gerrymandering to create a vicious, backwards gerontocracy through minority rule, but that’s the thing about demography, we can’t vote on what version of causality runs its course.) White supremacists pick up this message and run further with it, complaining they no longer have much in common with their fellow citizens because too many of them are brown, or also speak Spanish, or eat weird food, or somehow defy the proscribed template of small town or suburban whiteness, often weaving them into dark and elaborate conspiracies filed under the #WhiteGenocide rubric.

In reality, with the rise of automation and ever soaring income inequality created by supply-side voodoo economics for which they voted, convinced that corporate profits and the number of full time, career track jobs would always follow each other, even after the numbers started to deviate and continued to do so for decades, have created a new paradigm. It’s no longer enough to be white and have a penis, and be able to get a stable job with a steady income that could pay for a new house and support a family of four without highly specialized and expensive to acquire skills, and the core of the white working class voting for Republicans with a religious devotion simply cannot process this new world, much less that they’ve done it to themselves, and are looking for convenient scapegoats.

As an example, consider the billions of dollars given to Foxconn as an incentive for building an advanced manufacturing facility in the state of Wisconsin. Now that the ink is dry on the deal, it turns out that the company has no intention of building the facilities it promised to build, creating a small office park and working on a much smaller factory instead, if it will actually finish said facility. Wisconsinites took a gamble on the GOP advertised deal, sacrificing public cash and infrastructure improvements at the dim prospect of jobs that simply aren’t coming. This is far from the only such instance in Red America.

Again and again, the people who live in the Midwest and the Great Plains are told that they are special, that they are the heart and soul of the nation and warned that evil socialists are plotting to destroy their communities unless they vote Republican. And in return, they get empty promises, closed factories, and severely diminished public services. When they say that the government doesn’t work, they’re not simply being denialists or contrarians for the sheer sake of it. That is their experience. But unfortunately, they refuse to learn from it, ready, happy, and willing to blame one of the countless scapegoats presented to them by the politicians who failed them.

And as they blame liberals and immigrants and globalists for sabotaging their supposedly guaranteed success, they are closing the door on new ideas that could legitimately help them and the people who could execute them. In effect, they made a suicide pact with the conservative project. I get it, change can be scary and bizarre people from stranger lands can be intimidating if you’ve never dealt with them before. But unlike the fear mongers will tell you, they don’t want to replace you. They want to be your neighbors, your friends, your coworkers. They want to share their culture with you as a show of hospitality, not as an assertion of dominance.

Harnessing their talents was America’s strength, the thing that made it different from so many other nations. While today’s bigots cry about how little in common they have with their neighbors, the question they deliberately avoid answering is why just living in the same country and wanting the best for it isn’t enough. Of course, we all know their problem. They’re scared of anyone different so much that their fear turned to hatred, and they justify it with inane conspiracy theories about immigrants trying to undermine their new home even though it would hurt them as well. But since they’re willing to sacrifice their own livelihoods to purge their country of anyone who scares them, they assume the targets of their paranoid fantasies are equally bigoted and self-destructive.

We know what happens when tradition for the sake of tradition and nationalistic xenophobia become a nation’s official policy. It leads to both economic and social stagnation, to shrinking populations and frustrated societies spinning their wheels. Sure, the bigots are comfortable and appeased for the most part, but at the cost of progress in just about every possible field. Are Americans ready to sacrifice their futures to soothe shrieking xenophobes who demand the bar for success is lowered to having light skin and speaking English? Is peace on social media really worth undermining our economic, scientific, and engineering prowess? The fact that today these aren’t rhetorical questions is both absurd and distressing.

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Opinion // America / Donald Trump / Immigration