Stettner: The United States has an immigrant problem

Alexandra Stettner

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NPR recently told me a story I had never heard before: the history of German-Americans during World War I. In 1910, there was an influx of German migrants coming to the United States right before the war kicked into gear. Unfortunately, given the intense conflict with Germany, many German-Americans were seen as being too sympathetic to the enemy and totalitarian regimes, resulting in a slew of xenophobic social norms and policies. Many of these immigrants wanted absolutely nothing to do with the land that they came from.


According to NPR, Germany was forbidden from being studied by a quarter of American students in school. German-American media was heavily censored, libraries pulled German books off the shelves, prominent German-Americans lost their positions and internment for German-Americans was an option.

The term “hyphenated” American also became popular. The term was used in a derogatory way to belittle a group into thinking that they were not truly American as if those who have immigrated to America somehow were required to lose any ethnic identity they may have. Presidents Roosevelt and Wilson are quoted in saying that those communities are not “truly” American, while many of them had become citizens, sent their kids to school and worked.

Every non-native person in the United States is a product of immigration. To think that because your family has been here longer, you can identify as somehow a “better” American is absolutely absurd. We all came here simply for a better life or to take an opportunity and yet Americans time and time again tear down and abuse immigrants.

This story reminded me of the other “hyphenated” Americans: Irish-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Japanese-Americans, all who faced internment camps, terrible work conditions, prejudice and stereotypes.

Beyond the horrible treatment of fellow humans and their families, the anti-immigration sentiment has broad impacts on our economy and culture.

Standard economics tell us that as the labor market increases, or as the number of immigrants increase, wages will drop. However, immigrants also bring several benefits: increased investments by firms from a greater labor market, more room for established Americans to get promotions and the smoothing out of localized booms and busts because immigrants are typically more willing to move. Economists have learned that the benefits balance the costs and that immigrants have little impact on wages overall for the whole country.

To top it off, America has long been a place that attracts highly educated immigrants. A quarter of the U.S.-based Nobel laureates have been foreign born, 25 percent of tech start ups founded in 2006 were by founded by immigrants and 30 percent of productivity growth can be attributed to the influx of STEM working immigrants. This helped raise the per capita income by 8 percent in the last 20 years. Our agricultural industry relies on undocumented workers to do the work as Americans continue to turn down those jobs in pursuit for “better” opportunities.

This country cannot function or grow without immigrants. We can’t innovate or develop. We have to raise the voices of these marginalized communities because according to the math, that’s how we grow.

Beyond economics, and the most important in my opinion, immigrants and their native culture add so much to our own culture. They come from different perspectives and their voices can challenge, enlighten and educate us.

America has an immigrant problem. Not that we have too many immigrants or that immigrants are ruining our economy and jobs, but that for some reason Americans can’t handle immigrants coming into this country. It’s illogical and loaded with hate. We no longer live in the 19th century, so you’d think that we would learn from our mistakes.


Collegian Columnist can be reached at and on Twitter at @alexstetts.