Since the inauguration of President Trump, America has become unreasonably divided. On most issues of national importance, politicians and a large part of the media tend to portray two drastically different pictures. Here are the two sets of opposing viewpoints on the touchy issue of immigration:
- On general immigration policies: The pro-Trump camp cites the crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and the victims of such tragedies, and the heightened competition for blue-collar jobs. The opposition, however, emphasizes the benefits of immigration policies that encourage entrepreneurship, and decries the potential for breaking up families when immigration laws are enforced.
- On the border wall: The pro-Trump camp portrays a bright picture that the wall will stop the inflow of illegal immigration and illicit drugs. The anti-Trump camp describes the wall as wasteful and useless because the drug smugglers can dig tunnels, and undocumented immigrants can enter the U.S. legally but overstay their travel visas.
Though in a democracy we should embrace healthy debates with in-depth discussions of the pros and cons of each policy matter, I am disappointed that too many such debates are partisan in nature. Too many politicians and commentators take binary views of the world: Any policy initiative is either good or bad. They fail to objectively reflect the complex reality of our society.
As an immigrant, I am surrounded by many outstanding immigrants, who are ambitious and hard-working, and have made significant contributions to American society in scientific research and technological innovation, as well as in starting up companies and hiring Americans. I see a strong need for immigration.
According to Harvard Business Review, “Immigrants represent 27.5 percent of the countries’ entrepreneurs but only around 13 percent of the population. Similarly, about one-fourth of all technology and engineering companies started in the U.S. between 2006 and 2012 had at least one immigrant co-founder.”
An article in U.S. News & World Report says that “immigrants or their children founded 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies, including firms behind seven of the 10 most valuable brands in the world.” Clearly, America needs immigrants who bring talents and the mindset to drive innovation and to start up new businesses to keep our nation strong.
On the other hand, we have to recognize uncontrolled immigration does cause negative impacts. A 2013 Heritage Foundation report states: “In 2010, the average unlawful immigrant household received around $24,721 in government benefits and services while paying some $10,334 in taxes. This generated an average annual fiscal deficit (benefits received minus taxes paid) of around $14,387 per household. This cost had to be borne by U.S. taxpayers.”
Many terrorist attacks in the U.S. were committed by either immigrants or their children, who did not embrace American values, or failed to assimilate into American society. They include the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, the 2015 San Bernardino attack, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the 2009 Fort Hood shooting.
Furthermore, illegal drug smuggling from our southern border also exacerbates the drug epidemic: According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, in 2015, 591,000 Americans had a substance-use disorder involving heroin, and 12,990 died of overdose.
With $20 trillion in debt, and legitimate concerns about our national security and public health, America cannot afford an uncontrolled immigration policy. However, America cannot close its door to cut off vibrant sources of talents, innovation and entrepreneurship. What America needs is smart policy-making that is based on specific data and facts.
Unfortunately, in many areas, our nation has no sufficient data to help our government make scientific decisions. For example, there is no national database to differentiate the crimes committed by legal immigrants versus undocumented immigrants. Similarly, when commentators praise the entrepreneurship of immigrants, they rarely provide data to specify whether they are talking about legal immigrants, undocumented immigrants or both.
America just celebrated its 241st birthday. It’s time for our nation to pass the divisive, ideologically driven fight on immigration. Let’s start gathering and analyzing data with scientific details to guide our policy-making on immigration: Identify and attract the talents we need, and stop those who want to do us harm or take advantage of our system.
In this way, we will have a better chance to develop bipartisan policies that will create another century of American economic prosperity and technological leadership.
Yukong Zhao, a Chinese-American author in Orlando, is the president of the Asian American Coalition for Education. He founded yukongpost.com to promote critical thinking and balanced perspectives. The article was first published Orlando Sentinel on July 5, 2017.