The awkward truth of America’s immigration debate

17.10.16
4 minute read

We’re watching the American Dream eat itself

Joe Cross is the U.S. General Manager of TransferWise, the startup that's revolutionising the way we move money internationally, and an immigrant to the US from the UK.

I’m one of the 40 million immigrants living in the US. Apparently, for some Americans, that might be a few too many.

Here are some facts. Americans benefit from immigration. Immigrants made up 27% of all new entrepreneurs in 2015. Immigrants created new businesses at almost double the rate of native-born Americans (0.5% per month compared to 0.3%). From 2010 to 2013, immigrants accounted for all of the net growth in owners of local businesses (restaurants, food markets, dry-cleaning services, beauty salons, etc.) nationally. Same goes for 31 of the 50 largest U.S. metro areas including Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Miami. Immigrants also account for 40% of all Fortune 500 founders. Think about how many American jobs are created by the sum total of that.

And yet, for some, we are the problem. We’re proof that things went too far. That the melting pot has boiled over.

For the record, I am absolutely not a believer in completely open borders.

Or a supporter of illegal immigration. 100% free movement of people across the globe would surely not work on many levels.

However, this country was founded on principles of liberty and justice. The American Dream is exactly what attracted so many through Ellis Island. It still does today. It did me, through JFK. But sadly, the fear driving today’s immigration rhetoric — the same fear that drove my home country to Brexit — is also driving citizens in their droves to act against these founding principles. I’d argue that what we’re watching is the American Dream eating itself.

The statistics show that most immigrants in this country are not looking for an easy way out, but for the opportunity to work hard and actually reap the fruits of their labor. In a study published just last week, 14 leading economists found no long-term negative effect on the wages or employment of native-born Americans due to immigration. We are creating businesses and jobs, not just taking them. We are contributing to the American economy, not just taking handouts.

I’m British by birth and passport, living in New York with my British-Bengali wife and two half-bengali sons, both too young to know if they’re any different from their American friends. I work at TransferWise in NYC, and since we launched here last year, we’ve created close to 100 jobs on US soil. About half of us are, like me, immigrants. From India, Sweden, Uruguay, the UK, Venezuela, Brazil, Canada, and beyond, all united under one very clear mission.

That mission is to build a new, fair way to move money between countries - money without borders - to help people & businesses save money.

About half of our customers in America are immigrants, but many are native citizens who have formed ties abroad for many reasons, from importing goods to simply falling in love with a foreigner.

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A majority of UK citizens voted earlier this year in favour of bigger, stronger, nastier borders.

Whether Brexit will be the only, or the first, we’ll find out in less than 50 days. But the people who voted for those borders were absolutely not wrong. Their opinion is every bit as valid as mine. Democracy, even post-truth democracy, god-forbid, values every vote as one vote. And whatever happens, these people still need to be listened to, not ignored. Their anger is real. Every bit as real as me saying that Americans benefit from immigration. But future debates of migration and borderlessness must be based on and led by people who believe in liberty, justice and an open mind. They cannot be led by pedlars of fear, hate, racism or selfishness.

Already, in the UK, racially-motivated crime appears to be increasing. A dark-legitimacy has been given to antique opinions which have no place in the global village. As a member of a half-Muslim family, I’m genuinely worried about a future in which my sons may choose to deny half of who they are.

The biggest problems facing us and our children now — climate change, energy, pandemics, terror — are bigger than any one nation.

And as we solve them we’ll all do well to keep in mind that we’re human first, British, American or whatever second. That way ‘round is the way forward.

So, as President Franklin Roosevelt put it, "Remember. Remember always. That all of us. And you and I especially. Are descended from immigrants and revolutionists."


Sources

Bringing Vitality to Main Street: How Immigrant Small Businesses Help Local Economies Grow, Fiscal Policy Institute and the Americas Society/Council of the Americas

Kauffman Index of Main Street Entrepreneurship, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.


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