WHEN America’s Founding Fathers declared their independence more than two centuries ago, they not only claimed freedom for themselves and their fellow countrymen, but they also claimed it for those who had yet to arrive at our shores — the waves of future immigrants and their descendants.
The founders understood that an openness to immigration was essential to the fledgling nation’s success. Included in the “long train of abuses” they declared against the king of Great Britain on July 4, 1776, was that “He has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; (and) refusing to pass others to encourage their Migration hither.”
Since that first Fourth of July, America has become home to millions of immigrants who share our blessings of liberty — more than 80 million immigrants since official records began in 1820. These immigrants came and continue to come and enjoy the same inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that our founders declared to be the rightful inheritance of all mankind.
Immigration continues to stir controversy, as it has in decades past. But Americans should pause on this Fourth of July to consider the contributions that immigrants and their children have made to the core values we celebrate on Independence Day.
Most immigrants come from countries where citizens do not enjoy the freedoms that we take for granted. Many of them have suffered under governments that stifle economic initiative and other basic liberties. For those immigrants and their families, America represents a life-changing opportunity to live in a country where they can realize their full potential and serve others in a market economy.
Almost every American has witnessed firsthand the work ethic of immigrants — whether they are engineers and nurses or landscape gardeners and cabdrivers. Many of our most successful technology startup companies were founded by immigrants. One recent study found that two-thirds of the students who won high-profile competitions in science, technology, engineering and math were the children of immigrants.
Immigrants have also contributed to the defense of liberty by supporting and serving in the U.S. military. In the American Civil War, 18 percent of the Union Army was comprised of immigrants — most from Germany and Ireland. Of the select group of soldiers who have won the Medal of Honor since 1861, 20 percent, or more than 700, were born outside the United States.
Today, America’s active-duty military includes 65,000 immigrants — with Mexico and the Philippines as the top countries of origin. Foreign-born men and women in uniform bring with them critical language skills and cultural knowledge in service to our nation. About 12 percent of all U.S. veterans are immigrants or the children of immigrants.
As America has proved since its birth, freedom is both a precious commodity and an unlimited resource: It’s precious in that most people around the world still do not enjoy the full political, civil and economic freedom they deserve as humans. It’s unlimited in that one person’s newfound freedom as an immigrant to the United States does not by necessity diminish the freedom of those of us who already live here.
In practice, immigrants enhance our freedom as they have done throughout American history. Immigrants remind us daily of the freedom and opportunity that America offers. They bring with them new ideas, skills and an entrepreneurial spirit. They join with us in paying the taxes and enlisting in the Armed Forces to defend our liberties from those who would take them away.
May all Americans, current and aspiring, enjoy a happy Fourth of July.