- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

Ronald Reagan once said a foreigner can go to Germany and never become a German, to France and never become French, to Britain and never become English. America is the only nation where a person can move and become an American.

That is why one of the most momentous policy decisions Congress will make this year deals with immigration reform. Who should we allow to become an American? And how many newcomers should we accept?

These are vital questions President Bush has been trying to answer with his latest immigration proposal. His plan would allow a guest worker program for industries like agriculture that depend on migrant labor. In a few weeks, Congress will vote on one variation of that bill, sponsored by Republicans Larry Craig of Idaho in the Senate and Chris Cannon of Utah in the House. This bill will provide vitally necessary workers for our farmers and will admit these workers in a humane, legal and orderly way that provides them the full protections immigrant workers should receive. This bill will ensure agriculture workers in the U.S. have legal rather than illegal status and our farm economy remains internationally competitive.

It is also critical, while passing this new agriculture worker bill, the federal government step up enforcement of existing laws to discourage continued illegal immigration.

The overwhelming economic evidence — from distinguished groups such as the Federal Reserve Board, to the congressional Joint Economic Committee, to the National Research Council — confirms the U.S. economy benefits from immigration.

No nation has widened its gates to newcomers with greater generosity than the United States over the past 25 years. Over that period, we admitted nearly 20 million new Americans — from every part of the globe. That is more immigrants than were admitted by all other industrialized countries combined.

The percentage of Americans not born here has risen from 6 percent in 1970 to 11 percent today. That is a lot of additional people, but it’s also worth noting that in many times in our past 15 percent to 20 percent of our population was foreign born. We are less a nation of immigrants today than we were in the first half of the 20th century.

Some in Congress, like Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, want an immediate moratorium on immigration. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan worries our nation is having “an alien invasion” corrupt our culture and damage our economy.

Fortunately, he is wrong. After all, over the last two decades the U.S. economy has surged faster than any of our major competitors, such as Japan, Germany and France.

Though we have admitted millions of new immigrant workers, we created more jobs in the U.S. than the rest of the industrialized world combined — and our unemployment has fallen. Our free market economy has shown a wonderful capacity to absorb new hard-working immigrants into our labor force. Over this same period, the poverty rate in America has fallen and median family wealth has risen to a record level.

Immigrants enrich us with their vitality, their tireless work ethic, their talents, entrepreneurial spirit, and — perhaps most important of all — their appreciation of the freedoms and economic opportunities we as Americans by birth too often take entirely for granted. It is not uncommon for newly sworn in citizens to kiss the ground in appreciation of their new homeland.

With all due respect to Emma Lazarus and her beautiful poem at the Statue of Liberty, the immigrants who come here are not the “wretched refuse” or the poor, huddled masses” but rather the best and the brightest and hardest-working from every nation.

Not long ago T.J. Rodgers, president of Cypress Seminconductors noted that without immigrant brainpower, “there would never have been the entrepreneurial explosion in Silicon Valley we’ve seen over the last 20 years.”

That has been our formula for economic success. More than any other nation, we allow the dispossessed from around the world come here and build a better life.

Certainly America needs to protect its borders and keep out undesirables — those who would commit crimes, especially acts of terrorism, or want to abuse our welfare system. But if America is to remain prosperous and free, we must keep our Golden Gates wide open — whether for low-skilled Mexican migrant workers, or highly trained scientists and engineers from Europe, or refugees fleeing religious and political persecution from tyrannical governments. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeanne Kirkpatrick once wrote that anyone born here who believes he is more an American than those who have just arrived by choice, doesn’t really understand what America is all about.

By accepting immigrants, we not only make their lives better and freer, we enrich our own lives as well. That is why we support the agriculture worker bill and seek its swift passage.

Richard Gilder is chairman of the Club for Growth. Stephen Moore is the Club’s president.

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