I guess that could be me. We are all, in one way or the other, sons and daughters of immigrants, from this generation or from one or more generations in the past. But here, I am quoting Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, Purple Heart recipient and American hero.
Vindman recently testified before the House Intelligence Committee of the US Congress. He is a Ukrainian expert and was direct witness to the infamous conversation between Presidents Donald Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky. As a verifiable patriot and seasoned diplomat, Vindman served both Republican and Democratic administrations. His testimony may become important in the impending impeachment process. But, in this column, I highlight his witness as a “proud immigrant.”
“My family fled the Soviet Union when I was three years old… I’m a patriot and a proud immigrant.” Hundreds of thousands of good-hearted people must have cheered upon hearing these noble words—among those people, 30,000, the count of legal immigrants allowed into the US in 2019 (Source: Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo). It is a number now capped by the Trump administration, now intent on drastically reducing this special, greatly needed population.
The total number of legal immigrants and children stands now at 90 million (current U.S. population: 327 million). We are them; they are us. The percentage of legal immigrants, most now citizens, is 28 percent, predicted to reach 36 percent by 2065. With some exceptions, they have blended nicely into the famous U.S. “melting pot,” if not always easily. “Thank God for immigrants!” as a patient treated for cancer at the MARC in San Antonio (Medical Art and Research/UT Health) recently rejoiced, as he awoke, surrounded by nurses and physicians, immigrants themselves or descendants from India, the Philippines, and Mexico.
Not all U.S. citizens, of course, from Donald Trump on down, are as pleased as was the above patient (full disclosure: I was the patient) with the care and professionalism of immigrants. Prejudice—against color, culture and religion—is rampant. Moreover, misinformation, especially Trump’s repeated racist taunts and policies, have created unwise and very unnecessary barriers to the hopes of many for the spread of humanitarian ties among nations—or at least for a maintenance of the tradition of “good neighbors” between the U.S. and Mexico.
For its part, in Mexico, among its 130 million inhabitants, immigration is a concern. There is prejudice, often based on color and/or (as in the U.S.) based on fears of immigrants “taking our jobs.” There are about one million “foreign born” (but legal) aliens living in Mexico. Ironically, given the nature of anti-Mexican prejudice in the U.S., the majority (740,000) are from the U.S. Many of the residents are “snow birds” who come and leave with the seasons.
The rest of Mexico’s immigrants are from Central America, but many are sent back, Mexico’s government forced by Trump’s threats. Indeed, it has been recently proclaimed that Mexico has “built the wall and is paying for it” by halting (or deporting) immigrants. Mexico has a new “National Guard” and 6,500 of them patrol the south, while 15,000 patrol the northern border. That is a tough “wall.”
Other countries supplying workers for the U.S. are India, Philippines, China, and Viet Nam. They fill a need; the U.S., though not losing population (due to immigrants) is growing at the slowest rate since 1937, due to low birth rate. Taxes are shrinking, along with the work force. Immigrants are key to off-setting a falling birth rate; moreover, they tend to work longer hours and in more dangerous jobs.
Legal immigrants (even unauthorized) create wealth: e.g., a demand for goods and services. Buying and selling create 2/3 of the GNP. At least 75 percent of immigrants pay taxes (over and beyond state and local sales taxes). Due to cheaper labor, immigrant labor contributes to lower prices in agriculture, restaurants, and construction, aiding all people in the US. Revenue generated by immigrants exceeds costs of services, and always has. Donald Trump’s characterization of immigrants as people who drain public services, is simply “not backed by data” (Gretchen Frazee, “Four Myths about Immigration,” PBS, 2 Nov 18).
Frazee’s coverage continued with more specifics, noting how we are all inter-connected: Immigrants fill 24 percent of nursing and home care jobs; owners, manager, and salespeople are more often US born; immigrants tend to work as field hands, “neither could do their job without the other.” In the south Texas Valley, amid the recent “cold wave” (OK, only 49 degrees, but that’s cold for us), with high winds, at this writing, Halloween, 2019, one could observe pregnant migrant women, many probably immigrants, in the fields, weeding and picking vegetables.
How many up-state or out-of-state Anglos are willing to do that work? Latino workers, some of them immigrants, “face serious health risks” (including respiratory disease and heart problems) due to hurriedly picking grapes during California’s fierce forest fires (Anna Maria Barry-Jester, NBC, 31 Oct 19). Enjoy your next glass of wine; you’re welcome. But immigrant work is not always agricultural labor. Many fill needed technical jobs.
Immigrants are twice as likely to have graduate degrees as native-born. In the fields or out, they are often the more competitive workers (Ryan Nunn, et. al., “Dozen Immigration Facts,” Brookings Institution, 9 Oct 18). A new study shows even the poorest of immigrants “lift themselves up within a generation” (sources: Abramitzky, Stanford; Leah Platt Boustan, Princeton; Santiago Pérez, UC Davis; reported in Vox, 1 Nov 19).
Aside from hundreds of medical public servants from Mexico and Latin America, other immigrants’ contributions are seen daily, here in the Rio Grande Valley. They include, but are not limited to communities of faith, such as the Chinese Baptist Church; two Muslim mosques; and an exquisite Hindu Temple, McAllen, Texas, among so many others contributions. Yet, in face of the facts, Trump has made anti-immigration his centerpiece policy (Sarah Pierce, “Immigration Under Trump,” Migration Policy Institute), reducing even refugee admissions to the lowest since 1980.The parade of “horribles” includes canceling DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and with that action, the hopes of “dreamers” and others (almost 700,000) living in the U.S. since children. Top that? Could it be detention of children at the border, funds for their care going to private companies? Perhaps. But, if that was not bad enough, add threatened deportation of families with children in critical care, their life-saving treatment only available in the U.S.
Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts accuses (former?) Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship, and immigration “hard-liner,” Ken Cuccinelli, of complicity with Trump’s xenophobic designs. Even more pointed, Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz has accused Donald Trump, along with Cuccinelli, of implementing policy in service of “white supremacist ideology.” The latter rejected what he termed “defamatory” accusations. The split about immigration policy is widening and hardening.
This writer is not sure of a way to arrive at a solution. Perhaps one way would be for all the major actors—and all of us observers—whatever our current positions re immigration policy, to reflect on our own immigrant roots, and on Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s self-recognition of his pride as a son of immigrants.
Such soul-searching should include Cuccinelli’s Italian roots and perhaps two of Trump’s three wives’ immigrant roots—Czech (Ivana) and Croatian (Melania)—as well as Trump’s own immigrant German roots—the family name was Drumpf before Trump. Would Donald Drumpf prefer the U.S. had not welcomed his ancestors, nor accepted his wives? Would our country be better off? Interesting to speculate.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column was sent to the author, Dr. Gary Joe Mounce, from an unknown source in Mexico City. It appears alongside the column with the author’s consent.