The US immigration system is broken. There’s a fundamental disconnect between the immense number of people who want to begin anew, here in the United States vs. the much more miniscule number that we actually allow to immigrate.
America would benefit enormously from allowing more immigration. Not only has immigration been one of our country’s core values throughout our short history, immigration helps us build a better economy for all. Letting in more immigrants is the right thing to do, moth morally and practically, for their sake and ours. For a city in which many residents have signs saying “refugees welcome” it’s clear we’re not doing enough.
At one period in our history, over 44 percent of immigrants coming to the United States came through NYC itself via Ellis Island. While we as New Yorkers may hold that now defunct point of entry as a source of pride, we must take action to help the immigrants of today and tomorrow. Let’s incentivize immigrants to come here, the beautiful diverse city that welcomed many of our ancestors who sought better lives.
Today, immigrants make up around 18 percent of the US workforce. But immigrants have won 39 percent of America’s Nobel prizes in science. They make up over 40 percent of our STEM Ph.D. graduates. They make up 28 percent of our science and engineering faculty. They produce 28 percent of the nation’s high quality patents. And they found more than 50 percent of the billion dollar startup companies in the United States. NYC was/is home to Nikola Tesla, Irving Berlin, Dr. Ruth, and many others.
The US has a very large and promising crop of international scientists that are coming to the U.S. every year to study at our world-class universities. But due to our immigration laws, we can only keep some small fraction of them. America ends up training these students and forcing many of them to go back home overseas; it’s absurd and self-defeating. There is a huge demand from highly educated, talented workers to work for US companies, and to start new companies here. But the H1-B visa process is both convoluted (it’s a random lottery) and limited (there are not nearly enough slots available).
We should be making it as easy as possible for these highly trained, highly skilled immigrants to be able to stay in the United States, start new businesses, create new jobs, and help push forward the scientific frontier. Our entire immigration system needs an overhaul, and one of the best places to start, is to make those “refugees welcome” signs reality with these students, scientists, and entrepreneurs who have so much to contribute.
America, and especially NYC was built by immigrants, and throughout our history immigration has always made us more prosperous. During every age, there have been scares and panics that large waves of immigration would harm the country. This rhetoric does not put the privileged into better positions, only making the marginalized more so. Anti-immigrant feelings have been common in US history, but they’ve always been wrong.
The fabric of American society today is defined by the immigrants of the past. The same is true looking forward - our future society depends on today’s immigrants. The future is a policy choice - we can choose to embrace openness, dynamic growth, and the core American value of welcoming new peoples and turning them into patriotic Americans and proud New Yorkers. Or we can choose to close ourselves off, stunt our growth, and deny our history as a nation and city of immigrants.
For all our sakes, we should support immigration, for together we can push towards a more perfect union.
Benjamin Akselrod is an organizer for NYC Neoliberal.