BY U.S.REP. GRACE MENG
The United States has always been a nation of immigrants and nowhere is that more true than in New York City. The Statue of Liberty stands tall and bold, greeting the millions of immigrants who have reached our shores hoping to find a better life. Your parents or grandparents, like mine, may have been among these immigrants. Perhaps you are an immigrant.
Over the centuries, immigrants have made lasting impacts on our nation and borough and we have all benefitted. The Flushing Remonstrance, a petition to allow Flushing immigrants to worship freely, was the precursor to the religious freedom that we celebrate in the Bill of Rights and was written by early English immigrants in 1657. Many important infrastructure achievements, such as the Brooklyn Bridge or the Empire State Building, were either designed by immigrant minds or constructed with immigrant hands.
Immigrant small businesses add to the flavorful history of New York City and the rest of the country: pretzels, blue jeans and bodegas were all made popular by immigrants. Many of today’s thriving businesses started humbly with an immigrant dream, such as Kohl’s and Goldman Sachs.
The entrepreneurial spirit is characteristic of immigrants as they are almost twice as likely to start a business as native-born Americans. But, perhaps, most importantly, immigrants keep us safe. They fight crime, put out fires, teach our children, cure our illnesses and look after us as members of our communities. These critical contributions to American society have a long history— by 1900, for example, five out of every six police officers in New York City were Irish immigrants or their descendants.
Today, half of New York City’s workforce is comprised of immigrants. They are represented in almost every profession, including pharmacists who explain how to take our medicine and home health aides who take care of our sick and elderly family members. According to the most recent census data, almost half of the small businesses we shop at daily in New York City are owned by immigrants. In addition, 40 percent of Fortune Five Hundred companies were founded by immigrants or their children, including Google, Apple and even McDonalds. Immigrants drive our economy, innovate through technology and provide the services that keep our lives running smoothly.
Although the United States has always been home to immigrants, it has not always been easy. Our country has passed numerous laws, many steeped in prejudice, to prevent certain immigrant communities from finding opportunity or safety here. We are again at a time in history where restriction of certain immigrants has unfortunately gained traction and we must resist. That is why I introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to defund President Donald Trump’s initial executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries and why I opposed the revised version of his unnecessary travel ban.
I strongly believe that the immigrant experience cannot be separated from the American experience. I believe this not only as the daughter of immigrants, but as a citizen of the most diverse county in the greatest city and country in the world. Despite— or maybe because of— the trials they experienced, immigrants have been an integral part in the success of the American experiment. Let us give them the opportunity to continue to succeed and let us rise with them.