As the nation explores immigration reform, The Next America is asking scholars, analysts, policymakers, and others a simple question: If you were to take your expertise before Congress to better explain the short- and long-range challenges facing an increasingly demographically diverse nation, what three points might you make?
Judie Fertig Panneton is a child of immigrants from Denmark and the author of Proud Americans: Growing Up As Children of Immigrants. She’s an award-winning journalist, with reporting experience in print, television, and radio.
Below are the points she’d make, from her perspective, to sharpen aspects of the immigration debate.
Point One: Children of immigrants are already in our public-school classrooms, trying to learn English. “It’s like going to school in the dark,” one child of Brazilians told me when he came to this country without knowing the language. Without money to give these children more educational services to learn the language and integrate, the American Dream gets further away for them. They become less productive, and everyone loses.
Many families rely on their children to help them be the bridge to American ways by being their translators at the doctor’s office, when filling out documents, or understanding the public-transportation system.
Point Two: When thinking about children of immigrants, don’t differentiate between “illegal” or “legal.” Instead, focus on the person and what he/she has to offer to make the United States great. Think of the late Steve Jobs of Apple fame, whose biological father was born in Syria. Think about retired Gen. Colin Powell, whose parents were from Jamaica. Think of actor Leonardo DiCaprio, the child of a mother from Germany and a father from Italy. Think of Dr. Mehemet Oz, the son of Turkish immigrants. Think of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who parents were born in Italy …
Point Three: America has much to gain by embracing children of immigrants and their parents as their spending and voting power increase. Decision-makers in boardrooms and in political circles already recognize that. National companies are appointing multicultural marketing directors, and political parties are reaching out to minorities to gain their favor. When President Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address spoke about “America’s government of the people, by the people, for the people,” he recognized the importance of including everyone in the process. It makes the country and economy stronger.
The children of immigrants I interviewed don’t take America for granted and want to work and contribute to make this country better. They, and their families, deserve the chanceto succeed and to be proud Americans, just like the rest of us.