Considering that all native-born Americans — with the exception of Native Americans themselves — trace their heritage to immigrants from foreign countries, it's ironic that one of the hottest of hot-button issues in today's politics is immigration.
Despite all the mythology about "the land of opportunity," "the melting pot" and "Give me your tired, your poor," a xenophobic streak has always lurked in the American psyche. A particularly unattractive component of then-candidate Donald Trump's election strategy was his demonization of Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, a campaign of vilification that quickly expanded to include immigrants of the Islamic faith and other groups. For the president, the campaign continues.
Not only is this type of thinking repugnant from a moral point of view, it is also small-minded, self-defeating and just plain wrong. Its adherents, in their zeal to protect themselves from others who may not look like them or speak the same language, fall victim to a number of what Brooke Mead, executive director of the Berkshire Immigrant Center, calls "recycled myths" to justify their position. Among those myths debunked by Ms. Mead, who spoke about the center's work last week at Congregation Knesset Israel in Pittsfield, are:
— Immigrants take jobs from other Americans. The truth is that immigrants gladly work at jobs that many Americans won't take, and at wages that they would not accept.
— Immigrants are a drain on the economy and treasury. As Ms. Mead told The Eagle, immigrants to the U.S. pay approximately $12 billion more to the Treasury per year than they use in services.
— They aren't interested in being a part of American society. Any trip to a local naturalization ceremony would belie that misconception. Immigrants want desperately to become Americans and be assimilated into the national fabric — a fabric whose warp and weft are saturated with the dyes of cultural influences brought to this nation by, yes, immigrants.
— They are more prone to criminality. Actually, they came here to work hard and provide for their families. They aren't interested in committing crimes, any more than the native population.
Two characteristics of immigrants are salient, especially here in the Berkshires, where they comprise between eight and 12 percent of the local population and 17 percent of the statewide labor force: They work hard, and they tend to be young. The latter is particularly important for Berkshire County, the oldest (per capita) in the state. In fact, the only growing segment of the county's steadily sinking population and workforce consists of immigrants. Their youth and vitality contribute to the vibrancy of the area, and their numbers bolster the population to help preserve our representation in state and federal government.
throughout this nation's history, it is the influx of immigrants seeking a better life that has provided it with the impetus, brain power and imagination to become and remain the preeminent power on Earth. Barring immigrants entry, or marginalizing them in other ways, harms us all not only by hardening our hearts but also by denying all of us the spillover economic opportunities and advantages made possible by their contributions.
As Ms. Mead said, "(Immigrants) believe in the dream that a lot of us have lost." In other words, as we welcome them to settle in our midst, their ardor for our country and way of life can remind us what it means to be an American.