Immigration is critical to the strength of America

September 07, 2002

Passing summary judgment on a diverse group of people inevitably results in inaccuracies and unfairness. And that is what happened when Cal Thomas blamed immigrants for making the U.S. a divided union ("Immigrants making U.S. divided union," Opinion*Commentary, Aug. 21).

I am an immigrant myself and I am deeply hurt by Mr. Thomas' statements.

Contrary to his view of immigrants, I try to speak and write in correct English and I take every opportunity to improve my language skills.

I care about American history; in fact, most immigrants do. The next time you visit a historic site -- Fort McHenry, Gettysburg, Plymouth Plantation -- look around: You will notice a disproportionate number of foreign-born visitors.

Mr. Thomas argues that immigrants come to this country (legally or illegally) only to benefit from its resources.

Of course, immigrants appreciate the richness of the United States, probably more than many American-born citizens do. But they also enrich this country with their skills.

In my profession, physics, for instance, more than 50 percent of the graduate students are foreigners and many will remain in this country after graduation. Maintaining the current system of university-based research would be impossible without them.

Is this a problem? Certainly; but the main cause is the low level of K-12 science education, not immigration.

About 25 percent of all physics professors are also foreign-born, and the figures are similar in the other sciences and engineering. Importing brainpower is necessary because the number of American-born professionals is not sufficient.

Unskilled workers from Latin America are also vital to low-tech industry and agriculture. Because of the lack of appropriate guest worker programs, many of them enter the country and work illegally.

They often find employers who make big profits by using unregistered workers, paying them less than the minimum wage and providing no health benefits or social safety net.

Let's criticize the rules that allow such abuse, not the people who work hard to escape poverty.

And I need not terminate my relation to my old country (Hungary) to prove my allegiance to the United States. How could I cut my ties? My relatives and many friends live in Hungary. It's a beautiful country where many places are dear to my heart.

But caring about Hungary does not make me any less American. I do not promote Hungarian interests and values against those of the United States. Instead, I use my double background to foster mutual understanding.

If Mr. Thomas wants to hyphenate my citizenship for that reason, he can consider me a Hungarian-American. It will not diminish my commitment to America.

But diversity gives us great strength, and continued immigration is a valuable part of that strength.

Blame inappropriate immigration laws, inconsistent law enforcement, poor education and self-promoting politicians for its defects.

Laszlo Takacs

Columbia

The writer teaches physics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

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