America is a nation of immigrants. With the exception of American Indians, all of us are from somewhere else. Many would argue (including me, the grandson of four Italians) that America's greatness comes from its diversity. Indeed, most who came here over the last 100 years came with little or nothing, and were poorly educated but willing to work to achieve the American dream. More importantly, they came here legally, often waiting days to be processed at Ellis Island and other locales.
No matter where they came from, America's open arms provided shelter and economic opportunity for tens of millions. Indeed, most went from the bottom of the economic barrel to middle class in one generation. America itself became a world power as a result of the dedication and loyalty of its 20th-century immigrants. They built millions of mom-and-pop businesses, paid taxes, taught their children English (actually, most insisted their children learn English) and joined the armed forces, in many instances to fight as Americans against their former homelands in Europe and Asia.
Immigrants have been good for America, but our current immigration policy is strangely flawed. Thousands come across the border from Mexico, happy to do some of the most menial and backbreaking work. They pick crops, mow lawns, clean our pools, collect our garbage " mostly jobs middle-class and, to some degree, lower-class Americans refuse to do.
They, like their predecessors from the last century, want the American dream. The mistake they make is to come illegally. American immigration policy should assist these individuals if for no other reason than we don't want to do these jobs they're doing and doing well. If we get them on our tax roles, help them get driver's licenses and give them a path to a better life, everyone wins.
The bigger problem with our immigration policy is how we treat the world's smartest kids, who come to American universities to receive college degrees and become doctors and engineers, or to earn master of business administration or doctoral degrees and other advanced levels of education. American foreign policy requires them to return to their home countries when they finish their education. Wouldn't it make more sense to encourage them to stay here and become some of the most productive members of our society?
Why would we send the smartest, most well-educated men and women from across the globe home to be our competitors? Why wouldn't we encourage them to become American citizens, with some of the best jobs, earning the highest wages, and therefore paying the most in taxes? Why wouldn't we want them to help America remain the technological leader of the world? Or for them to become the next generation of innovators, educators and medical geniuses after those who made America the world's only superpower?
America's greatness is not because of where it is on the globe. America's greatness is a result of who we are. To maintain our greatness, our immigration policy should be targeted at attracting the next generation of the most brilliant, best-educated, goal-oriented, hardworking people to become Americans. They, by the way, will want the same for their kids, thereby ensuring a continuing cycle of economic and educational improvement. It worked for our grandparents and great-grandparents! - Vince Orza
Orza is dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University.