I was brought up to love my country and to appreciate its heritage of immigration and how immigrants helped build America. My father’s ancestors were Christians who were persecuted in England. Just like the Pilgrims, they fled for religious freedom, arriving in Massachusetts Colony in 1632.
Their descendants fought in the War for Independence and in the Civil War. My mother’s family came from famine-ravaged Ireland in 1855. They too became citizens and many became firemen and policemen.
Many of my childhood classmates descended from Northern European immigrants. In college and during my business career, I met people with immigrant ancestors, many from southern Europe or Asia or Jews originally from all over Europe. All of them were true Americans who were thankful for and proud of the sacrifices their ancestors had made.
As more and more illegal aliens flooded into our country in recent decades, my supportive view of immigration was eroding rapidly. Our heritage of assimilation, in which immigrants become Americans in every sense of the word, learn English, and go to work to build a new life in this land of opportunity, became less common. Diversity, multiculturalism, second languages, and lack of desire to assimilate appeared to be becoming the norm, much to the detriment of maintaining a national unity based on a common culture, faith, work ethic, morality, and language.
Then, as a census taker in 2010, I interviewed hundreds of families. In my first week, I knocked on the door of a Pakistani family. The father was now a university science professor; the mother was a medical professional. The middle-school-aged boy and girl spoke perfect English and were bright and polite.
As I started my interview, the grandparents were watching Jack Bauer on the counter-terrorism TV series “24.” At that moment, as Bauer killed two Islamic terrorists, the grandparents cheered! The father noticed that and said, “That is why we left our country.” He described the lack of opportunity, the rampant corruption, and how the radicals didn’t offer a future with hope and freedom.
I asked him, “How did you end up in here in the Dallas area?” He told me about the difficult 12-year process, how they studied national constitutions and talked to friends who preceded them. They had researched going to Europe, England, France, or Australia. But clearly the USA was their best choice. Texas was the most conservative state, and the Dallas-Ft. Worth area had a more diverse economy, offering more opportunity.
They believed our highly rated local school district offered the best education for their children. They knew that education was the key to freedom and success. He said, “We wanted a better life for our children. Ours is already far better, but that is not the point. We wanted to change the destiny of our family for many generations.”
Over the ensuing few months, I met and interviewed dozens of first-generation legal immigrant families from all over the world: Asia, the Middle East, Western and Eastern Europe, and Latin America. In all they were from 41 different countries. In one way or another, I asked “How did you end up here?” No matter where they were from, I got essentially the same answer from all of them.
I never had to ask, but they all volunteered strong opinions about illegal immigration and how wrong it was compared to the long, costly, and time-consuming process they had endured.
These families were clearly assimilating. Some had already become citizens. Their grateful pride in becoming citizens was quite evident. Some proudly showed me their citizenship papers or recited the Pledge of Allegiance. I thanked them for immigrating and told them about my own immigrant heritage.
In conclusion, the reason I decided to write this essay was the incredible consistency of their stories. It did not matter where they were from or how they got here. They all had the same story, every time! They had made life- and destiny-changing choices, leaving all behind to start over, just like my ancestors. All had left countries with varying levels of corruption, failing government, limited opportunity, and limited upward mobility. In some cases, religious freedom was a key motivator—mostly Chinese, Indian, or Arabic Christians. For all of them, education was the key factor in their choices after they had decided America offered the most freedom and opportunity.
This experience has restored my faith in controlled, legal immigration. All those ambitions, hopes, and dreams coming here and working toward a better life are good, very good for America, just as they always have been.