Perhaps the only issue our political parties can agree on is the need for an effective solution to the problems of illegal immigration. However, focusing narrowly on illegal immigration alone is counterproductive. An opportunity to deal with the broader subject of immigration in a positive way risks being lost if the issue of illegal immigration prevents us from considering the need for our country to replenish itself in light of its changing demographics.
Despite periodic talk of American decline and our seemingly intractable national budget problems, the desire for American citizenship has not diminished in the minds of people throughout the world. The majority of persons seeking citizenship legitimately through our court systems today are legally emigrated laborers and their families. Rather than focusing exclusively on illegal immigration (which the current political culture mostly does) we should direct our immigration debate instead on two larger and related questions. First, is the incoming immigrant pool actually large enough, and, second, does it consist of people who will contribute to our society in meaningful ways?
The answer to the first question is simply that our country needs more people. Native-born Americans are no longer having large families, a situation which portends future problems with Social Security and other retirement programs because the ratio of workers to retirees is rapidly decreasing. As for the second question, it cannot be denied that our nations failure to control illegal immigration has resulted in an influx of unskilled workers, when what is really needed is a more highly skilled workforce—young men and women who, given the fact they are better-educated, energetic, and eager to prove themselves, are more likely to supply our country with the raw, young talent needed for economic growth. Moreover, such an infusion of skilled labor would help ameliorate the nations financial problems brought on by changing demographics in age ratios. With this in mind, the enviable record set by Greek immigrants in all walks of life points clearly to Greece as a ready source for such persons who could contribute to a better America.
The economic turmoil existing today in parts of the world has exacerbated the phenomenon of relocation, all the while affording the United States a unique opportunity to enrich its population by an influx of a desirable workforce in spite of our currently unacceptable level of unemployment. But with our nations economy now rebounding from a recession and with shortages of trained workers already reported in specific fields and in many parts of the country, it is clear there is room, even a need, in America for more immigrants.
A remarkable change in the pool of ethnic and racial populations of immigrants to the United States is underway and should be encouraged to continue in coming decades to bring more immigrants from parts of the world that heretofore have contributed only marginally due largely in part to the currently existing quota system. Southeast Asians—primarily from India, Malaysia, and the Philippines—are already being recruited in large numbers by our financial and medical institutions. And although well-established Chinese, Korean, and Japanese populations are found in various parts of America, students from their representative countries now comprise the largest cohort of foreigners enrolled in our major universities, many of whom, we should hope, are destined to remain here beyond graduation.
Underdeveloped nations of Africa, as well as those in the Middle East, have provided an ever-increasing number of immigrants, while the daily influx of persons arriving from Mexico, Central and South America cannot be overestimated, most of whom are leading self-sustaining lives. That said, however, it must be emphasized that as a nation in need of further growth and development, we can no longer suffer the burden of supporting an endless number of unskilled people who are here legally or otherwise.
This is the time to take advantage of Europes economic dysfunction by reaching out to the thousands of well-educated young people from countries such as Greece, who are currently seeking employment outside their respective countries, and who, by virtue of their productivity, could ultimately contribute to our society in positive ways.
What is needed now is for our country to revise its immigration policies to seek talented youth from throughout the world to join us in reinventing our nation. As long as the United States is regarded by many as the best place on earth to live in, we Americans should, in turn, encourage more of the best to come and live among us.
James Rouman is a Greek-American author and a retired physician from Hartford, CT. His recent novel, Uncertain Journey, continues his examination of immigration issues through the eyes of an illegal alien from Albania, who escapes to Greece before making his way to America. The author volunteers at the Hartford Public Library in a program that helps immigrants prepare for their U.S. citizenship examination.