Kenneth and Shireen De Silva immigrated to Texas in 1982 as their home country of Sri Lanka moved toward what would become a two-decade civil war. Kenneth was the manager of a big company in his home country, but left it to start from the bottom once again in America.
After working as a copier salesman, Kenneth earned enough money to acquire a building he turned into a school. Now, the school has expanded to four buildings and received commendation from the White House, Texas governor’s office and city of Austin. A couple decades later, their grandson was blessed with the opportunity to go to the best college in Texas.
The immigrant dream is perhaps the purest version of the American dream. The De Silvas, my maternal grandparents, are just one of many immigrants with a similar story of struggle and eventual success.
Multiple studies have shown that immigrants are willing to do harder jobs for less money in hopes of creating future opportunities for their families. Influxes of immigrants throughout history have led to massive growth in prosperity, including during the Industrial Revolution and technology boom in the 1980s.
It’s time to end the stigma surrounding immigrants and embrace those hoping to become the next generation of Americans.
“Immigrant” seems to be a dirty word these days and comments from Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump have not helped. Trump has claimed most Mexican immigrants are “rapists” and “criminals,” to cheers and massive support.
While playing to existing xenophobia scores easy political points, it makes America look that much pettier on a global scale and increases stigma against millions of hardworking immigrants. To make things worse, this is a time we could use immigrants more than ever.
America’s baby boomer generation is starting to reach retirement age. More than one-third of people in this country are over the age of 50. Historically, the solution to making a population younger is bringing in working-age immigrants from other countries. Countries across the Western world are dealing with similar issues.
The best way to address this is to add young, hardworking immigrants to the workforce. This would increase the workforce participation rate and create significantly more wealth to support baby boomers into retirement. Instead, we choose to victimize.
To be fair, illegal immigration has played a big part in this negative perception of immigrants as of late. Most estimates say over 10 million illegal immigrants currently live in this country, which is undoubtedly an issue. But according to a Pew poll, illegal immigration has gone down each of the past few years.
It’s easy to score political points by victimizing groups of legal immigrants who do not have a voice in mainstream politics. Ultimately, the group we hurt most is ourselves.
The fact that immigrants still want to come to America is a testament to this country’s greatness. Part of this country’s greatness is its ability to take people of all types and get them to work together for the good of the many. We must fix our attitude to keep this dream alive.
Shehan Jeyarajah is a senior journalism major from Coppell. He is the city editor at the Lariat.