Commentary: The case for immigration is a case for America

There's no shortage of fear or anger in today's immigration debate.

The discussion has become absurd.

Building a wall. Restricting visas. Enacting laws that treat anyone who looks different with suspicion. Changing the Constitution to end birthright citizenship.

Hostility toward immigrants isn't new. However, it's not now and it's never been America at its best.

Here's a little perspective on immigration from a son and grandson of immigrants.

We reached a sad milestone in my family in July when my grandfather died at the age of 91. His story is unique: He was a civilian translator for the United States government when he, my grandmother, my mother and her siblings came to America from Vietnam in October 1967.

They weren't just visitors: They came here to stay.

While there's little doubt that it was a good time for them to leave their war-torn native country, my grandfather always insisted that he simply wanted his children, and later, his grandchildren, to have access to the wealth of opportunities America offered.

Grandpa's foresight enabled my family to find success as U.S. citizens. We're here because of him, and I'm proud to carry his legacy.

I find it abhorrent that the same country that embraced my family 43 years ago would tell others that they should go home.

This doesn't sound like America, and it's most certainly not the America that earned my grandfather's devotion. He loved this country as much as anyone born here.

Those who want to seal America off to newcomers threaten to undermine what makes the country special: Its openness, its diversity and its entrepreneurial spirit.

Immigrants helped build America and helped it flourish.

It's hard to imagine completing the transcontinental railroad without immigrants. Or running the garment factories and automobile assembly lines or raising gleaming skyscrapers without the millions who came ashore from other places.

Today, U.S. technology companies and research institutions benefit enormously from immigrants with valuable skills in science and engineering. They, in turn, bolster the economy and attract more talented workers.

Since 9/11, however, visa restrictions have sharply reduced the entry of such skilled foreign workers. Those who do come to the U.S. now feel less welcome here.

If we shut the door on them, it's our loss and somebody else's gain.

China just passed Japan as the world's No. 2 economy, and the No. 1 economy, the U.S., can't remain so if it treats every potential immigrant like a potential criminal.

Some people enter the country illegally, and those who commit serious crimes should be deported. However, most undocumented immigrants aren't hard criminals. They share my grandfather's desire for better opportunities, as well as improved lives for themselves and their families.

America needs immigrants to prosper and remain competitive in a global economy. The day laborers of today could give rise to the scientists, engineers, teachers, doctors and business leaders — or presidents — of tomorrow.

The sooner we can help put those who are here and contributing to America's prosperity on a path to citizenship, the better. Turning them or their children away would be a serious mistake.

The country that welcomed millions of immigrants in the 20th century, including my grandfather, should extend its hand to others in the 21st and help make it their new home.

That's not amnesty. That's opportunity.


Curtis Tate is an editor at McClatchy's Washington Bureau.