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Immigrants Smarter Than Ever, Census Shows — Time To Revise Old Prejudices

In immigration on April 21, 2010 at 3:23 pm
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As someone who’s technically, after 21 years in the U.S., an immigrant, I’ve long known that thousands of people living here and born elsewhere are smart as hell: lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, entrepreneurs, professors and then people like me who only have a bachelor’s degree but are still doing fine, making our mark professionally, contributing skills to our communities.

We’re not all bedraggled day laborers with six kids!

Yet if you listen to (God help you) conservative talk shows and focus only on what the mass media show us are “typical” immigrants, we’re an undifferentiated mass of low-wage workers forced by useless foreign degrees or poor language skills, whether legally or not, into doing the nastiest of jobs, whether slitting cow’s throats in midwestern abbatoirs or delivering Chinese food in Manhattan for $2/hour.

From that depressing inaccurate snapshot, it’s a quick, simple, racist progression to conflate immigrant with poor/struggling/uneducated/send ‘em back!

Now the Census is revealing a sharp spike in immigrants with doctorates, reports The New York Times:

For the first time, fully 1 in 10 adults had an education beyond a bachelor’s degree. Among adults in their late 20s, 35 percent of women and 27 percent of men had a bachelor’s degree, an eight percentage point gender gap, compared with three percentage points in 1999.

Many immigrants don’t fit the tidy — and politically useful — working-class stereotype, such as the professional Haitians, like doctors and nurses living in the U.S., who rushed back to help their countrymen, profiled here by the Times.

This is a sensitive topic for me for two reasons — it’s ignorant and it’s rude. I’d say simply racist, but there are plenty of pale-skinned immigrants underestimated along with those whose skin contains  more melanin.

The U.S. was built by, and continues to thrive thanks to, the skills, ideas, drive and creativity of millions of educated, ambitious workers who choose to come and stay here, not merely those whose lowest hourly wage in the U.S. equals a day’s — or week’s — wage in their homeland. I interviewed such a man yesterday for my book, the funny, forthright, passionate CEO of Reflexis, an IT company working with retail giants like Staples; he and most of his management team are from India.

My partner, who is of Hispanic origin but an American citizen, born and raised here, has been the object of such casual racism it has shocked me to my roots. One sunny fall afternoon, wearing clean, quality casual clothing, he was looking up at the fall foliage on our building’s property, admiring the colors and said “What a view!”

A resident of our co-op, assuming he must, of course, be a day laborer who worked on the building’s brick re-pointing, responded: “You guys did a great job!”

My sweetie, which is his blessedly gentle nature, said nothing to correct this insulting assumption. The man has a Pulitzer.

People with dark skin, an accent and/or a foreign passport aren’t always struggling to climb the social and professional ladder, no matter how comforting that belief.

Some are seriously kicking ass.

  1. And more than welcome. My advice: Don’t listen to those radio shows. They aren’t an alternative viewpoint. They’re a long-form whine.

  2. Completely agree with you. Racism has no place in our society regardless of a citizen’s national origin.

    But the operative word here is “citizen”. And I do believe that for the sake of fairness, foreign-born residents should go through the proper channels to become U.S. citizens and until then, need to have working visas to maintain their legal status. I’m not advocating border patrols or draconian deportations. But we can’t have two sets of rules–one for the educated who are here on corporate sponsorship and one for the non-educated. Personally, I think we should give all current illegal aliens amnesty and the right to apply for citizenship; after that we need to come up with one set of rules and stick by them.

  3. Then that excludes me. I am not a citizen and don’t intend to become one. I am a resident alien.

    This is where it gets messy because the assumption is that everyone who is here legally should become a citizen. Many green card holders are happy to pay the same amount of tax as citizens (without the right to vote on where or how those taxes are spent) but do not wish to lose their original passport (some nationalities don’t have to do this) or for whatever reason just don’t want to change their status.

    Why should they?

    • If you plan to live here indefinitely, why not become a citizen? No need to give up your current Canadian citizenship; a dual citizenship will do.

      Point being, if a resident alien lives and works here, I believe they should also participate in our government–voting, etc.–which you can’t do if you’re not a citizen. You are paying taxes, as you say; why not have your interests looked after?

      Perhaps this is an antiquated notion of patriotism, but as much as non-citizen contributions and tax payments are valued, I think there’s a responsibility to the country, not just your employer, that comes with the privilege of living here. And what bothers me about the current two-tiered immigration system is that you–an educated white collar worker–has a completely different experience with permanent worker status than, for example, an uneducated blue collar worker who is simply trying to provide a better life for her kids.

      If the U.S. is a democracy in which “all men are created equal”, then we shouldn’t have two sets of criteria for who stays and who doesn’t. It’s both separate and unequal, the worst of both worlds.

    • My wife is also a legal alien and also sees no reason, except for the right to vote. However, that right is not compelling enough to sacrifice her national (Czech) identity. On one level that choice is so personal that I’m indifferent. On the other hand, when it comes to people I like and respect, it would make me happy to see them vote, but that’s just me being selfish.

  4. Americans are deeply patriotic. It is a very American sentiment. It is not, necessarily, for others. What is also, arguably, an American value is freedom of speech and thought and behavior. I am happy to pay tax without voting. It hurts me, and that is my choice. There is no party in the country that would get my vote, which is one of several reasons I have stayed in the status I have chosen.

    The post is not meant to be — (as this is becoming a discussion) of me – but a larger commentary on the broader (mis) perception of all the others who, also, have come from elsewhere, and whatever their *legal* tax-paying status, have decided not to become a citizen. It *is* a choice. Canadians don’t get all bothered when someone remains a landed immigrant (the equivalent of resident alien); we figure it’s their business.

    • You side-stepped the two-tiered issue, but I’ll let it go. Let’s agree to disagree on this one.

  5. “And what bothers me about the current two-tiered immigration system is that you–an educated white collar worker–has a completely different experience with permanent worker status than, for example, an uneducated blue collar worker who is simply trying to provide a better life for her kids.”

    I didn’t mean to ignore you. I don’t really get your point here. If both are legal residents and both pay tax, what difference does it make if one is uneducated and blue collar and another is not? The appalling cost of attaining post-secondary education in this country right now is indeed a barrier – whether vocational training, community college (classes are crammed to bursting) or university — and a higher one for people with less income, true.

    Is your point (?) that the federal government and legislators need to rethink who is even initially allowed to enter the U.S. and stay here, legally, perhaps using the point system that is used by many other nations — Canada being one of them? In other words, focus on skills, and make sure only people with the appropriate skills can come and live here?

    When I moved to the U.S. in 1988, I had to show I had savings, an education and career success and took an AIDS test. It wasn’t automatic and I suppose they could have turned me down. (I was allowed a green card as the then unmarried child of an American citizen.)

  6. John, it’s an interesting question, and less difficult for a Canadian who does not have to surrender her passport. My greater goal is not to add a U.S. passport but an EU one, which I can get because I have an Irish grandfather. I hope to live in Europe in a few years and that would ease things considerably; living in the U.S. is becoming increasingly challenging with the 3rd recession in 20 years; huge and growing income disparities, a lack of government regulation that allows consistent screwing of people who need help (some of the new healthcare “reforms” don’t even go into effect for FOUR years) and the very real spectre, always, of some sort of medical bankruptcy.

    I interviewed a pensions expert years ago for a story and when I told her I have a Canadian passport (i.e. access, with residency there, even part-time, 5 months a year) to their healthcare system she told me this was the best investment in my portfolio.

    I am watching the British elections — and the new interest in Clegg and the LibDems — with interest. Without a strong, smart third party (and, no, I’m sorry the Tea Party isn’t that) offering thoughtful, workable real policy options, no change is going to happen here. The bi-partisan lack of cooperation makes the notion of voting moot, for me and for many others — citizens or not.

    I did wish I could have pulled the lever for Obama. It’s the first and only time I cared. Now….not so impressed with him.

    • One thing about our system is that it’s designed to slow down and compromise change. For this reason it can be frustrating to watch, but I’m still a fan. International diplomacy is making a comeback, healthcare was a win, even if it was only a first step, and of course we’ve gotten rid of this idea that we can debate torture and rule of law, all while prosecuting a more effective war on al queda (at least in terms of killing or capturing them). In addition, I think the arms agreement with Russia was a big win too. If he can now implement meaningful financial reform that will be more progress than we’ve seen in many years around here, and he’s not even half way through his first term. . .

  7. No, I know. Other parliamentary systems have their own checks and balances. I grew up watching the (socialist) influence of the NDP on Canada’s two (then) main parties, and it was useful. I didn’t want them in power but I wanted their influence and ideas in the mix.

    I feel the emphasis here now should be on helping more people financially — jobs growth.etc.

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