E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one) is America’s motto found on coins, dollar bills, on the seal of the US Senate and House, and represents the idea that many – states and diverse people – are stronger together, and that together, we make one great nation. With the exception of Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians, all of us have come here from somewhere else. Some came willingly, in search of economic opportunity, some by force as part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, some in search of safety, fleeing war or persecution at home.
June was Immigrant Heritage Month and June 20th marked World Refugee Day – both a time to honor and celebrate immigrants and their contributions, as well as raise awareness of the plight of refugees. As we recognize these occasions, we must also acknowledge that there continues to be a crisis at the border and persistent and rising anti-immigrant sentiment, even among people who are themselves descendants of immigrants, which is most Americans. As we see these issues in our own community, it is now more important than ever before that we are able to understand and articulate how immigrants contribute positively to our collective well-being and prosperity. What many people do not know, but should, is that:
Working immigrants subsidize Social Security and Medicare benefits for all older adults.
Recent Census data shows that the US birth rate is declining at a rate below replacement. Our population is aging, women have more career opportunities, and the high cost of raising a child contributes to families waiting or wanting fewer children. But, because of this population decline, there are fewer workers to support an aging workforce. A study by FWD.us projects that without significantly increasing immigration, our government would need to pay out hundreds of billions more in Social Security to support those retiring workers than what it brings in by 2050.
Immigrants create jobs and help our economy grow.
In 2019, forty-four of the top 100 Fortune 500 companies, including Costco, Apple, Ford, and AT&T were founded by immigrants or US born offspring of immigrants*. Immigrants hold essential jobs that we count on every day. Immigrants bring abilities and skills that benefit us all. They harvest, process, and prepare our food, care for our sick and elderly, teach our children and keep them safe, construct and repair our buildings.
Katalin Kariko, an immigrant from Hungary was responsible for the discovery and use of mRNA and the subsequent development of the BioNTech COVID vaccine.
We have a moral obligation to accept refugees into our country and community.
Humanitarian crises around the world are leaving hundreds of thousands displaced. The US has a moral obligation to individuals in parts of the world where our intervention has caused political instability, crime, and corruption. For example, violence in countries in Central America have roots in US involvement. A US-backed coup against a democratically elected president in Guatemala or the US military presence in Honduras that led to the deregulation and destabilization of the global coffee trade. US actions like these have created conditions where corruption or violent gangs cause people to leave in search of safety and survival**.
We need to support immigrants, refugees, and all Americans. In King County, one in four residents were born outside the United States. Immigration on top of migration from other parts of the US brings diversity, innovation, and growth. This growth has also made housing unaffordable. We need more immediate solutions to house those who need it.
Policy makers are beginning to address this pressure through zoning, rebalancing the tax code, and investments from the American Rescue Plan. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, includes $213 billion allocated for housing, with a focus on low- and middle-income homeowners and prospective homebuyers. While this is a start, much more is needed***.
Welcoming immigrants and refugees to the US is good for our economy, good for our standing as a world leader, and adds culture and vibrancy in our community. And it is simply the right thing to do. If we can focus on policies that improve conditions for all of us, rather than blaming immigrants for our own misplaced priorities, we can make sure everyone has the opportunities to thrive.
By Janice Deguchi, Executive Director