This week, a local news reporter called me. He was doing a Thanksgiving-themed piece on people who had washed up here in our coastal New England town from other countries (a la pilgrims). He was looking for local expatriates or immigrants who had "done well." This last qualifier made me think. Done well.
I arranged to meet the reporter for an evening interview at one of our local diners. There, over a cup of hot tea, I gave dates and years and reasons for leaving Ireland, followed by my motivations for staying in the U.S. of A.
I'm not sure "motivations" describes it. Most of the time, for most of us, it feels like one day rolls over into the next, and, gee, I just paid for a full tank of gas. So why waste $40 worth of refined petroleum by heading off to another country or, indeed, back to my native country of Ireland (where gas is much more expensive)?
For some of the people I drive past on the highway every morning, I imagine that "done well" means getting to pay next month's rent. Or it means feeding their kids for another day. Or if I stroll through certain streets in Boston or my nearby cities in the Merrimack Valley, there are plenty of people for whom 'doing well' means snagging a dry, warm place to sleep for that night.
Or for an estimated 11 million people, 'doing well' means getting to stay within these shores (immigration reform, let's get a move on here), to do what they've already been doing: working and paying the rent and feeding themselves and their kids.
Make no mistake about it: However "well" or sorta-well us long-term expats may have done (and, of course, this is all relative and can implode at any time), we have a responsibility to these newcomers--to those folks not being called or interviewed by their local newspaper.
We also have a responsibility to live by that bootstrap phrase that our national and local politicians (especially in greater Boston) love to toss around and overuse: "Never forget where you came from."
For me, "where I came from" is no longer my native country, but my heretofore status--26 years ago now--as a wide-eyed and petrified newcomer to these shores.
I've never forgotten that. I hope I never will.
In 2014: What Immigrants Contribute to the U.S. Economy
Did you know that immigrants now comprise approximately 14% of the U.S. workforce? Also, immigrants are just as likely (as native born folks) to own their own businesses—thereby creating U.S. jobs.
Often, the public dialog tends to center around illegal immigrants, but every year, far more legally-admitted immigrants come here than those who enter without legal status (immigration reform, you're still not off the hook).
Among this legal group, 16% are sponsored by U.S. employers to fill in positions for which no U.S. worker was available, and an additional 8% come as refugees or asylees, fleeing persecution and looking for safety and freedom in the U.S. The remainder come for family reasons.
The Contribution of Undocumented Immigrants
They contribute their talents, their labor, their languages, cultures and outsider insight. Many risk their lives to come here. They also contribute cold, hard cash. Yep! Contrary to the fact-mangling vitriol I've had to endure at dinner and cocktail parties, undocumented immigrants do, in fact, pay taxes--a whopping 7.7 million of them, according to one study. Cumulatively, undocumented immigrant workers pay an estimated 11.2 billion into the U.S. Social Security fund, and an additional 2.6 billion into Medicare—money and benefits that the immigrant workers themselves will never be able to reclaim as benefits.
Myths, questions and answers about U.S. Immigrants
NPR "Here and Now" segment, "Can Immigrants Save Small-Town America?"
Op-Ed piece, "Don't Shut the Golden Door" in the New York Times?