Immigration. Few words spark a more passionate and divisive debate among politicians, students, retirees and families gathered around the dinner table. All of us with good long-term relationships know: To reach solutions to contentious issues, we must listen to the other side and be willing to compromise.
We need to acknowledge that the concerns of others have merit and then respectfully reason together to develop thoughtful laws that should be followed and enforced.
Consider the many benefits we currently enjoy from immigrants who already live here.
Inc. Magazine wrote that immigrants start 25% of all new U.S. businesses and comprise 20% of Inc. 500’s fastest-growing American businesses. Fortune Magazine noted that immigrants and their children have founded more than 40% of the Fortune 500 companies, including Google, Yahoo, SpaceX and YouTube. Oklahoma would be diminished without contributions from its largest-volume homebuilder, contributors to the oil and gas and the manufacturing industries, and many medical and other professionals who have immigrated here.
A report from New American Economy, conducted for the city of Tulsa and the Tulsa Regional Chamber, shows that Tulsa’s immigrant population contributed $3.8 billion to the region’s economy while 4,047 immigrant entrepreneurs generated $55 million locally in business income in 2015.
Immigrants in Oklahoma create new jobs and new companies rather than take existing jobs. They often do jobs that native-born Americans don’t want to do. For example, while immigrants were only 6.7% of the population, they accounted for nearly 21% of construction, 14.4% of tourism and hospitality and 14.2% of manufacturing workers.
The George W. Bush Economic Growth Initiative addresses many myths about immigration:
Myth: Immigrants are taking over America. Fact: Immigrants account for 13.5% of the total U.S. population, which is in line with historic norms.
Myth: Immigrants are all from Mexico and Latin America Fact: 30% of immigrants come from Asia, and currently more are coming from China than Mexico.
Myth: Immigrants take American jobs. Fact: 7.6% of immigrants are self-employed compared to 5.6% of native-born Americans.
Myth: Immigrants aren’t educated. Fact: Recent immigrants are more likely to have college degrees and advanced degrees than native-born Americans.
Immigrants have contributed enormously to improving America’s quality of life through arts, sports and culture. On July 4 we annually celebrate America’s independence, and many of us sing “God Bless America,” written by Irving Berlin, an immigrant from Russia.
For generations, immigrants have entertained and inspired America with artists like Bob Hope (England), Yo-Yo Ma (France), Charlize Theron (South Africa), Melania Trump (Slovenia), Michael J. Fox (Canada), Carlos Santana (Mexico) and Gloria Estefan (Cuba).
Sports figures: Greg Norman (Australia), Pele (Brazil); Mariano Rivera (Panama), Martina Navratilova (Czechoslovakia), Ichiro Suzuki (Japan) and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Steven Adams (New Zealand).
Immigrants have been important sources of intellectual achievement including Albert Einstein (Germany), Elie Wiesel (Romania), Ayn Rand (Russia) and Joseph Pulitzer (Hungary).
Immigration has been an issue through the ages. Economic opportunities or fear of persecution, war and violence often compel people to leave their homeland to live in another country. The Bible teaches us about patriarchs who were immigrants including Abraham, Jacob, David, Jesus and Paul. The Israelites were told to treat immigrants well because they (or their ancestors) had been immigrants. Jesus tells us to take care of the least of these, including immigrants, because when we do, we are taking care of him.
Some cast immigration as a divisive, partisan political issue. Historically, that is not the case. Political leaders from all parties have spoken favorably about the benefits of immigration. For example:
• President George Washington: “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respected stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions, whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges.”
• President Ronald Reagan: “Anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American. This I believe is one of the most important sources of America’s greatness. We lead the world because unique among nations, we draw our people, our strength, from every country and every corner of the world…thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity.”
• President Barack Obama, “We are, and we will always be, a nation of immigrants.”
As a nation of immigrants, we have developed the most dynamic economy and the most diverse population in the history of the world. Our diversity yields our dynamism, and our dynamism requires our diversity …. They go together.
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Tom Bennett Jr. is a fifth-generation Oklahoman and has been a community banker for over 44 years. He is a member of the Tulsa World Community Advisory Board.