This morning, the San Francisco Chronicle has a heartbreaking story about the thousands of immigrant children seeking asylum in our country. It’s been a contentious issue all summer, with angry protestors blocking buses carrying the children to holding centers.
I cringe when I see this kind of hatred directed at kids–and not just because I think it’s immoral for the richest country in the world to turn its back on people seeking a better life. There’s a much more practical, economic reason for my revulsion. Immigration is one of the main reasons, if not the main reason we became the richest country in the world–and continuing to welcome honest, hard working immigrants is the key to us staying that way.
The core problem with America’s immigration system is not that we let too many people in. It’s that we let too few in.
A century and a half ago, America’s economic output was roughly equal to Argentina’s. Back then a lot of people thought Argentina, not America, would be the world’s next power. Why did America win this economic battle? We embraced free market economics and we embraced the world’s downtrodden.
Have you ever heard of George P. Mitchell? Most people (especially outside of Texas) haven’t. He passed away last year but his accomplishments will live on for decades. If it wasn’t for Mitchell’s innovations and perseverance, this incredible energy boom going on in America right now would have never happened.
George P. Mitchell’s company perfected the process of hydraulic fracking for natural gas, especially in shale formations. Mitchell also pioneered horizontal drilling for oil and gas reserves, which revitalized the energy industry, especially here in the United States. In 2012, The Economist magazine called him “the father of fracking” and said “few businesspeople have done as much to change the world” as him. And you know what? Mitchell was the son of a Greek goatherd who immigrated to Galveston, Texas.
I think about George P. Mitchell and his goatherd father when I see stories of immigrants and their children risking their lives to get to our country. Who knows how many George P. Mitchells are among them? The human mind is the greatest asset any society has and you nurture that mind with two things–a quality public education system and good societal values, the most important being the belief that every person should have the opportunity to live up to his or her potential.
Right now, we only allow about one million legal immigrants into the country per year. I believe that number should be significantly expanded, and I also think that folks who entered America illegally need a simple path to citizenship. These measures make sense both economically and morally. But they will only work well if we limit free social services to those who truly need them. While Ellis Island and European immigrants are lauded in American history, few people know that almost a third of all immigrants who came through Ellis Island eventually returned to Europe. Why? Because life in America was hard, and there were no handouts. I don’t think we should go back to the harsh conditions of the turn of the last century. But we should make sure the people coming here are seeking opportunity, not welfare. Lastly, America needs to welcome immigrants but we also need a strict law and order agenda. Any new arrivals who commit felonies, especially violent felonies, should get an immediate one way ticket back out of the country.