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Column: A nation of immigrants
Tony Scully (c).jpg
Tony Scully

In the South Carolina Midlands, far from borders and entry points, immigration remains a common topic of conversation, with the rallying cry, “I’m not against immigration; I’m against illegal immigration!” Clearly, most of us recognize the importance of boundaries, of rules and regulations, of national security. That said, our conversation about immigration with its contradictions, its arguments, and its frustrations, marks us. We are fortunate to have had great leaders who have understood the importance of immigration to our national prosperity and well-being.

We lead the world, because unique among nations, we draw our strength from every country and every corner of the world. Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we’re a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge, always leading the world to the next frontier. President Ronald Reagan

America’s immigrant history made us who we are. Amid all the complications of policy, may we never forget that immigration is a blessing and a strength. President George W. Bush

Without revisiting the Japanese internment camps, the Oriental Exclusion Act, the Native American removal policies, the Salem Witch Trials, the hanging of Quakers on the Boston Common, the banishment of Baptists from Massachusetts in 1635, and the ever present memory of slavery, we continue to defy our history and welcome the stranger, all to achieve the promise we have set forth for ourselves in “all men are created equal.”

In 1797, a member of Congress argued that, while a liberal immigration policy was fine when the country was new and unsettled, now that America had reached its maturity and was fully populated, immigration should stop. President John F. Kennedy, A Nation of Immigrants.

One of the biggest misconceptions about undocumented immigrants is they don’t pay taxes. The most recent U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data, from 2015, shows that the agency received 4.4 million income tax returns from workers without Social Security numbers. That year, they paid $23.6 billion in income taxes. The IRS estimates unauthorized workers pay about $9 billion in payroll taxes annually; they pay about $13 billion a year to the Social Security fund. In fact, their income taxes and payroll tax dollars are keeping Social Security and Medicare solvent. All undocumented workers fund public schools and local government services by paying sales and property taxes. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that undocumented workers pay about $11.7 billion a year in state and local taxes.

At the moment we are losing population. According to a 2018 Brookings Institute report, the U.S. population growth rate of 0.62 percent for 2017-2018 is the lowest registered in 80 years. Immigration is projected to be the primary contributor to national population growth after 2030, as the national growth rate continues to decline.

America must welcome all -- Chinese, Irish, German, pauper or not, criminal or not -- all without exceptions: become an asylum for all who choose to come. Dare we deny them a home -- close the doors in their face -- and then sit down satisfied with our system -- convinced that we have solved our problem? I for my part refuse to connect America with such a failure -- such a tragedy, for tragedy it would be. Walt Whitman

Question: What do the following Americans have in common: Baseball great Ted Williams; actor and ambassador John Gavin; governor and cabinet secretary Bill Richardson; actors Salma Hayek, Margaret O’Brien, Catherine Bach, Ricardo Montalban, Nicole Ritchie, Cameron Diaz, Sofia Vergara, Raquel Welch and Eva Longoria; Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; golfer Nancy Lopez; Academy Award winner Jose Ferrer; model Christy Turlington; Roberto Clemente; Oscar De La Hoya; Vikki Carr; Wonder Woman TV actress Lynda Carter; Desi Arnaz; Linda Ronstadt; Sammy Davis Jr.; Gloria Estefan; Oscar/Tony/Emmy winner Rita Moreno; Anthony Quinn; and former Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez? U.S. Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Bob Menendez. What about Alex Rodriquez and Jennifer Lopez? What about Jeff Bezos of Amazon, the richest man in the world, his surname from his Cuban stepfather? Designer Oscar de la Renta. Joan Baez. The list goes on. And on. Answer: All these Americans descend from Latin American immigrants.

I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and who have lived here, even though some time back, they may have entered illegally. President Ronald Reagan

Post script: According to the New York Times, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services erased the iconic phrase, “a nation of immigrants” from its mission statement in March 2019.