Diridon: Honest, hardworking immigrants needed
San Jose students and community members hosted a walkout to support DACA and TPS recipients on the same day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the issue. File photo.

“America puts the best of all of the world’s people through a smelter called democracy and the resulting amalgam is stronger than the sum of those individual populations working separately.”

That paraphrase of a mid-1800s quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson was simplified to “melting pot,” a prideworthy term that applies to most Americans. The quote is less true now because the flow of diverse human ingredients for “democracy’s smelter” was being walled off. But an expanding stew of hope, creativity and honest striving was the heritage that’s made America great. The nation needs another infusion.

In 2019 the U.S. Census Bureau set our population at about 330 million. Quoting the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the gross national product (GNP) of the U.S. in 2019 was about $22 trillion supporting those 330 million Americans. China’s 1.4 billion folks created a GNP of about $13 trillion. Last year China’s GNP growth dropped from a remarkable sequence of 10%+ years to a still strong 7% while the U.S. has been stalled at around 2% for years.

A main difference is China’s large population of well-educated, upwardly mobile youngsters motivated to succeed. Until the pandemic, the U.S. had a low 3% to 4% unemployment rate, which is statistically equivalent to full employment. We hope to return to full employment after COVID yet we’re walling off the influx of potential new Americans. And we don’t have enough hometown youngsters to pick up the burden or they’re stuck in obsolete industries and often frustrated beyond trying.

We need to help Americans succeed and that means better education, counseling and job retraining when obsolete industries don’t provide decent opportunities. Tech, solar and wind provide many more healthy, well paid jobs now than coal and oil combined but require retraining and relocation support to reemploy those in transition. Let’s do it.

While we do all possible to catapult those hometown friends into good jobs, we need to remember that after COVID there’ll be more work to be done than any amount of U.S. talent can handle. So, let’s welcome the willing immigrants and prepare them to help us build America as our parents did.

Indeed, the immigrants need to be thoroughly vetted. Let’s compliment President Biden for breaking the processing backlog. That hellish system that separated children from parents in inhumane, dangerous conditions made a mockery of America’s vaunted equal treatment under the law.

Quickly processing the mass of applicants, rejecting the bad ones and welcoming the good folks, is surely more honorable and much less expensive. Over a century ago, my Italian grandparents came through Ellis Island and were treated with dignity. America is being judged now for what is occurring on our southern border.

Let’s change our focus from excluding to welcoming the honest, hard workers. Those new seekers of the American Dream will soon gain the education and skills to help our current American leaders from prior immigrations. There will be some assimilation cost that America can and must afford just as we retrain those in our obsolete U.S. carbon-based industries. Our humanity and national economic vitality demand that we make that investment to rekindle Emerson’s “smelting pot.” We need those newcomers as much as they need us.

Rod Diridon, Sr., is chair of the Silicon Valley Ethics Roundtable. He is the past chair of the Transit Cooperative Research Board of the National Research Council, past chair of the national Council of University Transportation Centers and past chair of the American Public Transportation Association.

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