A few days ago, I had a conversation with a woman who referred to immigrants as if they were a homogenous group of people who were stealing resources and destroying “her America.” In response, I am offering this article in honor of the amazing immigrants, past and present, who have made this country what it is today. Here is my list of 5 reasons to start celebrating the term “immigrants” rather than using it like a dirty word.
1. Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, John Muir and many, many more famous inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, actors and artists have immigrated to the U.S., bringing their contributions with them.
Would you have denied entry to these famous immigrants?
Albert Einstein – While Einstein was touring much of the world speaking on his theories in the 1920s, the Nazis were rising to power under the leadership of Adolph Hitler. Einstein’s theories on relativity became a convenient target for Nazi propaganda. In 1931, the Nazis enlisted other physicists to denounce Einstein and his theories as “Jewish physics.” At this time, Einstein learned that the new German government, now in full control by the Nazi party, had passed a law barring Jews from holding any official position, including teaching at universities. Einstein also learned that his name was on a list of assassination targets, and a Nazi organization published a magazine with Einstein’s picture and the caption “Not Yet Hanged” on the cover.
In December, 1932, Einstein decided to leave Germany forever. He took a position a the newly formed Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey, which soon became a Mecca for physicists from around the world. It was here that he would spend the rest of his career trying to develop a unified field theory—an all-embracing theory that would unify the forces of the universe, and thereby the laws of physics, into one framework—and refute the accepted interpretation of quantum physics.
Nikola Tesla – Native to the country we call Croatia today, Tesla developed his idea for the induction motor while in Budapest. But after several years of trying to gain interest in his invention, at age 28 Tesla decided to leave Europe for America. Thomas Edison hired Tesla, and the two men were soon working tirelessly alongside each other, making improvements to Edison’s inventions. Tesla, for his part, continued in his work and would patent several more inventions during this period, including the “Tesla coil,” which laid the foundation for wireless technologies and is still used in radio technology today. His alternating-current system would quickly become the preeminent power system of the 20th century, and it has remained the worldwide standard ever since. He also developed the induction motor and was a pioneer in the discovery of radar technology, X-ray technology, remote control and the rotating magnetic field—the basis of most AC machinery.
John Muir – Naturalist, writer and advocate of U.S. forest conservation, John Muir founded the Sierra Club and helped establish Sequoia, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Parks. A native of Scotland, John Muir worked to get the federal government to adopt a forest conservation policy through articles published in popular periodicals. As a young man, he was blinded at an accident on the job. Upon regaining his sight, he fully embraced his devotion to nature and walked from Indiana to Florida, creating detailed sketches of the terrain.
Muir became known for his articles that praised the natural world, speaking in poetic, spiritual terms about his affection for the ecology and humanity’s earth connection, garnering a large and varied readership. In the new century he continued to make history with his 1903 three-night camping trip with Theodore Roosevelt, which helped shape the U.S. president’s own conservationist policies.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” – John Muir
2. They help our country to remain a leader of innovation. Co-creator of Google, Sergey Brin, is an immigrant. Elon Musk, the brain behind Tesla motors, the incredibly fast hyperloop train in development, a solar energy company and space exploration enterprise SpaceX, is an immigrant from South Africa. We do not have enough qualified immigrants to fill many science and technology jobs, and companies need to be able to recruit the talent they need to create innovative products and breathe life into new ideas.
3. They are more likely to be entrepreneurs than native-born Americans. Immigrants work and pay taxes and also create new products, businesses, and technologies that lead to jobs for all Americans. Immigrants tend to be highly entrepreneurial, creating jobs here in the United States.
Research from the Small Business Administration suggests that immigrants are more likely to start a business than are non‑immigrants: while they are only 12 percent of the U.S. population, immigrants represent 16.7 percent of all new business owners in the United States. Immigrants own businesses in a variety of industries and make substantial contributions to both low-skilled and high-skilled sectors: 28.4 percent of businesses owned by those with less than a high school education are owned by immigrants, and 12 percent of businesses owned by those with a college education are owned by immigrants. Overall, immigrants own 10.8 percent of all firms with employees, providing job opportunities for thousands of Americans.
4. They invest in our country. Through the extremely popular EB-5 visa program, immigrants are required to invest a minimum of $500,000 in a business that will create at least 10 American jobs. For $500,000 they must invest in underserved areas where investment is most needed. For $1,000,000, they are allowed more freedom to choose where they invest.
5. Your ancestors were immigrants. Unless you are a Native American, you come from a family of immigrants. Your family came here seeking opportunity and a better life, just like today’s immigrants.
Immigrants are a diverse group of people who share only one thing in common: they moved to this country a little bit more recently than your family did. In future conversations and political discussions about immigrants, let us celebrate this diversity along with their achievements and contributions, past and present.