The storms around immigration policies in the United States continue to rage, and it seems unlikely that they will soon abate. In any other country, a change in immigration policy would not create such shock, horror or rage. But for the U.S., immigration is a subject that touches nearly every person living there, one way or another.
In 1958, John F. Kennedy said: "Every American who has ever lived, with the exception of one group, was either an immigrant himself or a descendant of immigrants."
Kennedy was from a family that emigrated from Ireland. He knew that immigration was important for America. He had strong ideas on immigration, as reflected in his (sarcastic) suggestion that A New Colossus, the poem by Emma Lazarus, be adjusted to reflect the reality: the world's tired and poor are welcome to America's shores, "as long as they come from Northern Europe, are not too tired or too poor or slightly ill, never stole a loaf of bread, never joined a questionable organization and can document their activities for the past two years…"
Kennedy was against the immigration quotas that encouraged immigration from Europe (Northern and Western Europe), but excluded other immigrants. Kennedy advocated a policy of immigration that took into account neither race, ethnicity or religion, rather judging all applicants equally.
How different things are today. Donald Trump talks about immigrants as sources of "crimes and drugs." In his world, immigrants use up resources and lower wages. The word "immigrant" in America is inevitably followed by the word "crisis."
In response to Donald Trump's toxic regulations, 40 Kennedy's, including Ethel, the 90 year-old widow of Robert Kennedy, has gone on hunger strike. The strike is called "Break Bread Not Families" and in place of meals the hunger strikers donate money to help migrant families.
As the proud member of a family of immigrants – my parents and my husband's families are all immigrants – and as an immigrant to Turkey myself, it is time for a reality check.
Immigrants bring more than they take. Immigrants bring innovation, they bring in a new perspective, they bring creativity. And they also provide a strong labor force, carrying out tasks that the citizens do not want to do. For example, slave labor fueled industry, grew and harvested crops. Slaves were immigrants (although unwilling). The extensive American rail system was built almost entirely by immigrants. Today immigrants take on many of the blue-collar jobs that keep the country moving.
Migrant families are processed at the Central Bus Station before being taken to Catholic Charities, in McAllen, Texas.
Throughout the 19th century immigrants from Europe flooded into America, looking for greater opportunities and freedom. By the end of the 19th century, with the Gold Rush, Chinese immigrants also started to come to the country in large numbers. In fact, one of the first laws restricting immigration was the Chinese Exclusion Act. Passed in 1882, this law made it impossible for Chinese workers to come to America. The Americans who demanded this law said that the Chinese workers were driving wages down.
After this, quotas based on nationality were introduced; Northern and Western Europeans were given larger quotas. Only in 1965, soon after Kennedy's assassination, did his dream of removing the quotas come to pass, with the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
As stated above, immigrants do not only take lower paid jobs, they also create jobs. In America, immigrants make up 12 percent of the population, but in 2015 nearly 17 percent of entrepreneurs were immigrants. And this did not just start in this century. Immigrants have played an important role in American history from the very beginning.
Everybody is aware that Albert Einstein immigrated from Germany to the U.S. before the outbreak of World War II. Joseph Pulitzer, the newspaper magnate was Hungarian; in his will Pulitzer made provisions for the journalism prize for excellence that is still given in his name today. There are few who would contend that the Pulitzer Prize is not an important American convention.
A more recent newspaper magnate, Rupert Murdoch, is also an immigrant. Murdoch is originally Australian; today he is CEO of News Corporation, the world's second largest media conglomerate.
Another newspaper great is Arianna Huffington. The co-founder and former editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post was born in Greece. Huffington has been listed by Forbes as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world.
According to Media Research Center, George Soros, another immigrant, has ties to over 30 media outlets. He has donated large amounts to NPR, and also has ties with New York Times, Washington Post, the Associated Press, NBC and ABC. It shouldn't be forgotten that Soros is the 19th wealthiest person in the world. Not bad for an immigrant from Budapest.
Politics have been heavily influenced by immigration. First of all, the Founding Fathers were either immigrants or from immigrant families. More recently, the first female Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, was born in Prague. Although an immigrant, Albright became the highest ranking woman in the history of U.S. politics.
Henry Kissinger, another immigrant secretary of state, was a Jewish immigrant from Germany. Kissinger perceived America as the promised land, as "our best, perhaps our last, hope" in a world full of pain and terror. It is said that "He relied in the years after 1941 on new openings in American society to immigrants of his background, new government support for the education and employment of immigrants, and new patronage from powerful political figures who recognized, often despite their own cultural insularity, that immigrants could make important contributions to policy." (https://academic.oup.com/dh/article/32/5/719/397335)
Another politician who is an immigrant is Arnold Schwarzenegger. This body builder/film star/politician has certainly left his mark on America. Born in Austria, Schwarzenegger, much like Kissinger, never tried to disguise his accent, but rather made it his trade mark.
The music world is heavily influenced by immigrants. Irving Berlin (famous for classical American songs like White Christmas and God Bless America) was born in a Russian hut at the beginning of the 20thcentury. Yo-Yo Ma, although from a Chinese family, was born in Paris. He moved to New York at the age of 7. This cello virtuoso changed classical music; he performed at the presidential inauguration ceremony for Obama in 2009. And rock music has of course been greatly changed by immigrants; for example, the Van Halen brothers were born in Holland.
And then there is social media….without immigrants we would not have Yahoo! The founder of Yahoo! Jerry Yang was born in Taiwan. Sergey Brin, born in Russia, came to America at the age of 6; he grew up to be the co-founder of Google. The CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, was born in Madurai, India and came to America when he was in his 20s.
Jan Koum is co-founder and CEO of WhatsApp. This entrepreneur came to America from the Ukraine as a teenager; his family was fleeing persecution and looking for a better life. And then finally Youtube was established by Steve Chen, born in Taiwan, and Jawed Karim, born in East Germany.
Fashion wouldn't be fashion in America without immigrants. Levi Strauss, the inventor of jeans, was born in Germany and came to America as a teenager to work with his brothers.
Liz Claiborne, famed for her working woman couture, was born in Belgian. Her company was the first company established by a woman to be on the Fortune 500 list.
This is not to mention the number of Italian, French and Latin American designers who have made America their home.
Of course, sports have not been untouched by immigration. Many basketball players, boxers and other athletes were born in other countries, coming later to America. Perhaps the most quintessentially American sport is baseball. And one of the most famous pitchers is Mariano Rivera. This sporting great, who has won five World Series and innumerable awards, was born in Panama.
Nikola Tesla, known by all as a great inventor and innovator, was born in what is today Croatia, immigrating to America when he was in his 20s.
There are so many actors, actresses and models who immigrated to America, it would be impossible to list them here. But perhaps it is worth mentioning two models here. Ivana and Melania Trump. Ivana, Donald Trump's first wife, was born in Czechoslovakia. Melania Trump, Donald Trump's current wife, was born in Slovenia.
And this is where the mind starts to boggle. A man who married not one immigrant woman, but two, is dead set against immigration. But Trump is not against immigration per se. He is against the immigration of the poor, of the young, of the needy and of Muslims. Rich, affluent Christian immigration is no problem.
But maybe we should remind Donald Trump that his grandfather, Friedrich Trump, came to America from Germany. Friedrich knew no English. He only had a high school diploma. Not because he had not pursued further education, but because he was not yet 18 years old. Friedrich Trump arrived alone, making the long sea journey to join his sister in America. That is, Grandfather Trump was an unaccompanied minor. But, Grandfather Trump was not put into a wire cage or threatened with a taser gun.
Trump's mother was an immigrant from Scotland. Mary Anne Macleod was the 10th child of a Scottish crofter (farmer). That is, she was one of the "influx of foreign workers" who Trump claims keep salaries low and unemployment high. These foreign workers, Trump says, make life difficult for Americans.
It is interesting that there is talk that Donald Trump's role in Celebrity Apprentice is about to be taken by Arnold Schwarzenegger. These foreigners really are taking all the best jobs aren't they?