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Mark Green: We're a nation of immigrants (column)

1:47 AM, Nov. 2, 2013  |  Comments
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During times of economic and political uncertainty, it's all too easy to forget that America serves a special role in this world as a beacon of liberty and opportunity. As a young Tanzanian once said to me during my days as ambassador to that country, "You are what we want to be."

My family has lived out that notion as well. My parents immigrated to Green Bay nearly 50 years ago because this country represented a chance for their children to grow and chase their dreams. Of course, they couldn't have known then that their oldest son would have the honor of serving as a state legislator, a congressman and a diplomat. But they knew it was possible - because anything is in America.

One lesson I take from all this is just how important immigration is to our way of life - and how Congress must work to fix our current flawed system so that the promise of immigration is there for generations to come.

A recent poll found that 54 percent of Americans believe that the growing number of immigrants helps strengthen our society. I believe most Americans recognize that the ideas and customs immigrants bring to these shores help renew the values that have made - and will continue to make - America great.

It shouldn't surprise anyone how many immigrants have adopted the entrepreneurial spirit that built this country. They are 30 percent more likely to start a new business than those who are born here and now represent nearly 17 percent of all new business owners. They also started 25 percent of the highest growth companies in the US between 1990 and 2005.

Nor should we be surprised at how many immigrants stand ready to defend this great country that has welcomed them. An estimated 8 percent of our active duty military personnel are foreign born and serve bravely and with honor. They have put themselves on the front lines upholding the values we, as a country, hold dear. After all, they are the very values that drew them here.

Immigrants currently represent 24 percent of US scientists and 47 percent of U.S. engineers with bachelor or doctorate degrees, and studies show that for every foreign-born student with an advanced degree from a US university who stays here to work in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields are associated with an average 2.6 jobs for American workers. Unfortunately, under the current system few of the foreign students who choose to study here can stay, even if they are offered a job by a company who needs their expertise. Instead, they must leave and go to work for our global competitors. How are we to continue to grow our economy when we cannot access some of the best and brightest innovators, even those educated in our own backyard?

Congress has the opportunity to strengthen our borders and replace the broken immigration system with one that works. It is important for our economy, our culture and our way of life that they take action now so that we can move forward together to face the challenges of the future.

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