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My America, Troubling Winds

by Andy Katz, CEO of GridQuire Labs

There’s been a lot of talk about immigration in the recent months. Some of it constructive, but a lot of it emotional and misguided, in my opinion.

Here’s where I come from: I’m a CEO in a field — technology — that has benefitted greatly from the contributions of immigrants. And I’m the grandson of a man and a woman who fought hard to escape the Nazi Holocaust and started a new and productive life in The United States.

Edith Katz (Nana) L, Warren Katz (Poppa) R, Photo Credits: Roy Katz

So, yeah. I’m a little biased when it comes to the subject of immigration. But bear with me.

No matter how we got here, most of us — or someone before us — got here from somewhere else and began to put down roots in this sprawling nation. Our bloodlines trace back across oceans and borders, even though many of our families have been here for years. Centuries, even. We started somewhere else, but today, we’re Americans.

As a country, for hundreds of years, that’s been true. And, for hundreds of years, despite occasional flare-ups and push-backs, we’ve accepted that as part of what makes The United States the greatest land of opportunity in the world.

But lately, our memory has been getting hazy. We’re getting tied up in confusion and fear. And, while there are legitimate concerns about how to manage responsibly the flood of people from around the world who yearn to call this country home, it’s easy to turn the word “immigrant” into something dark and sinister, as some have started to do.

It’s happened before. Throughout our history as a nation, though we often eventually ended up in a more enlightened place, those of us who were already here didn’t always greet the next waves of immigrants with open arms, choosing instead to laugh at them, vilify them, demonize them and, even, legislate against them. 

It’s happening again. And, again, it’s time for cooler heads to prevail.

Think about this:

 

  • In the 19th and 20th Centuries, waves of immigration led to the notion of America as The Great Melting Pot, where we honored our heritage while celebrating our status as new Americans. 
     
  • Today, immigrants are growing our economy. Yes, at the bottom where foreign-born workers build our houses, roads and other infrastructure. But also at the very top, where immigrants have started more than half of United States startups valued at $1 billion or more. Half.
     
  • Immigrants are leading us to the future. Immigrants have been awarded 40% of Nobel Prizes won by Americans in Chemistry, Medicine, and Physics since 2000. 
     
  • And finally, immigrants are learning how to make a better tomorrow, right here in the United States. Today, 77 percent of the full-time graduate students in electrical engineering and 71 percent in computer science at U.S. universities are international students. Many would choose to stay here in the United States, if they could.

In tech-related sectors, especially, we count on being able to tap into the minds and hearts of people from around the world who want to make this country and this world a better place. Whether they’re seeking personal wealth, a way to help others, or just a way to build a better game or ad platform, they know that this country is the place they want to be. Need to be.

But that notion will not last forever if we move from a posture of welcome to one of crossed-arms, staring across the border as if everyone on the other side is the enemy. If we say no too many times, the best and brightest around the globe might just decide to try their hand elsewhere.

And if that happens, we’ll be all the poorer for it.

 

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