In my recent post on nativism and immigration, I mentioned that for much of our nation’s history, the image of an “American” was conflated with being a Caucasian of western European ancestry. This prejudice stemmed from the idea that since our nation’s founders were white and Anglo Saxon, our nation’s populous must reflect that image. Thick walls of racism were constructed around this notion, leading to the false presumption that “outsiders” would be incapable of reflecting American values solely because of their background.
The fallacy in this thinking, of course, is that unlike European nations, the United States was established on ideas, not an ethnic identification. These include beliefs in equality, individual freedom and personal privacy—all of which are universal human values. Realizing this fact can remove a number of blinders about immigrants—as can the information in a recent report from the Center for American Progress.
The document offers an array of interesting statistics on the positive role immigrants play in American life, and includes data on education, home ownership, labor force participation and more.
Included in its findings:
“Immigrants have diverse educational backgrounds. In 2012, 11.6 percent of immigrants had a master’s degree, professional degree, or doctorate degree, compared with 10.8 percent of the native-born population. That same year, 69.4 percent of the foreign-born population had attained a high school diploma, GED, or higher, compared with 89.9 percent of the native-born population.”
“Less than one in five immigrants live in poverty, and they are no more likely to use social services than the native-born Americans. In 2012, 19.1 percent of immigrants lived in poverty, while 15.4 percent of the native-born population lived in poverty. Of the foreign born, the two largest groups living in poverty were the 3.2 million people who emigrated from Mexico and the 1.4 million people who emigrated from either South or East Asia. Despite of this, studies have consistently shown that immigrants use social programs such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income at similar rates to native households.”
Among the undocumented immigrant population, the report notes that: “Undocumented immigrants comprise a disproportionately large percentage of the labor force relative to the size of the overall population. In 2010, 8.4 million undocumented immigrants were employed in the United States. They represented 5.2 percent of the U.S. labor force, although they comprised only 3.7 percent of the U.S. population.”
What’s the takeaway here? The realization that aspirations to a better life for one’s self and one’s family are represented in all people, and that the American promise of equal opportunity is not the property of any one race or ethnicity.