A headline in the Washington Post recently declared that there were over one million immigrants living in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Many of these immigrants are from India and south Asia. It was also reported that most are highly educated. In Loudoun County, Virginia, the home of the idyllic village of Paeonian Springs, one in five (20%) of the population is an immigrant.
Driving east from Paeonian Springs to the nearby town of Leesburg it is impossible to miss signs of the influx. On Sunday evening, my wife and I drove into Leesburg to visit our favorite barbeque joint. By accident, on the way, we noticed a Vietnamese restaurant. It is very difficult for me to drive past a Vietnamese restaurant without pulling in. This one was no exception.
Xuan Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant was a very pleasant surprise given the spontaneity and impulsiveness of our visit. There were items on the menu that I have not found anywhere else except in Vietnamese homes. I was very pleased indeed. Speaking briefly to the proprietor, I discovered that she was originally from Central Vietnam and arrived on these shores during the first wave of Vietnamese immigration in 1975.
Back to the immigration discussion – for about an hour, Xuan Saigon enriched the lives of my wife and I. This is a simple analogy, with the point being that overall most of our lives are enriched by the diversity and talents given to this country by our millions of immigrants.
As of publication time, 35 million people living in this country are immigrants. That's 12.4 percent of our population. All of us know immigrants. Some of us come from families who recently immigrated and all of us – including Native Americans - are descended from immigrants.
There would be no United States if people had not taken the risk to immigrate here. I did some genealogical research for a friend of mine a few years ago and discovered that his forbears were Swiss. Most of us assume that Switzerland is this beautiful mountainous country with no problems except where to put the world's money. This wasn't always the case. For numerous political reasons during the 1700's quite a number of Swiss wanted to "get out of Dodge." Deceived by pamphlets advertising the alpine climate and beauty of eastern South Carolina two hundred Swiss arrived at Beech Island on the Savannah River. That first summer forty of this original contingent died.
This is one story. There are millions of stories about the deprivations and risks people have taken as part of their immigration experience. These collective experiences have become part of our national heritage. Our laws, attitudes, and culture are influenced by our immigrant experience.
Currently our population is involved in a national debate over immigration. Undoubtedly, laws will be passed that all of us will have to live with for years.
On the one hand, we as a people have to decide how secure we want our borders - that currently are full of sieves flowing with illegal immigrants.
On the other hand we have to avoid destroying the avenue that makes us who we are – a diverse, strong, imaginative, and bold population of risk takers – a country of immigrants...