Diversity Makes America Great: We Are a Nation of Immigrants

Two and a half years ago, the world was arrested by an image—the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach.  He and his family came from the northern Syrian town of Kobani, the site of fierce fighting between Islamic State insurgents and Kurdish forces at the time. Many Americans saw both the pain and the unnecessary suffering caused by dangerous and unsupported migration. Compassion and horror flowed in equal measure, though still not enough is changing today. As evidenced by recent U.S. government policies toward immigrants which display a stunning indifference to the plight of others. This backslide threatens not only those fleeing extreme conflict, but anyone seeking the opportunity to contribute to the U.S., or wishing to reunite with family.

Our own U.S. history and independent research demonstrate that migration to this country has been at the heart of our country’s growth, alongside an adherence to our deeper values of humanitarianism and charity. For example, the migration of refugee scientists from Germany due to fascist oppression was overwhelmingly positive for the U.S., with immigrant Nobel prize winners advancing our knowledge of the physical sciences and serving as mentors for other U.S. scientists. This population influx is an anecdotal example of how migration contributed to America’s technical and scientific dominance during the years after World War II.

On a broader level, countries that receive and incorporate diverse migrants grow and prosper over time. A recently published article from the Harvard Business School reviewed a large-scale data set on international migration from 1960 to 2010, using information on the nationality of immigrants to construct indexes of birthplace diversity. Controlling for size of economies and likelihood of the economy to draw migrants, researchers found that countries open to migrants over this 50-year period enjoyed 2.8 percent more GDP growth after their populations become more diverse compared with other countries. Increased openness to workers from diverse origins brings large benefits, including an increased range of skills, ideas, and innovative solutions.

Our modern immigration system began with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 – which eliminated a national origin quota system that had its roots in 1920s discriminatory nativist policy. Upon signing the bill at Liberty Island, President Johnson summed up what diverse migration has meant to us: a “beautiful America was built by a nation of strangers, from a hundred different places or more... joining and blending in one mighty and irresistible tide.” As the current presidential administration tries to close our borders to those seeking sanctuary from conflict, or moves to remove protected status for the Dreamers, we must keep compassion, facts, heart, and values in mind.