Settlers to US embody our ideals

By Daniel Griswold

Tribune News Service

When America’s Founding Fathers declared their independence more than two centuries ago, they not only claimed freedom for themselves and their fellow countrymen, but they also claimed it for those who had yet to arrive at our shores – the waves of future immigrants and their descendants.

The founders understood that an openness to immigration was essential to the fledgling nation’s success. Included in the “long train of abuses” they declared against the king of Great Britain on July 4, 1776, was that “He has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; (and) refusing to pass others to encourage their Migration hither.”

80 million immigrants

Since that first Fourth of July, America has become home to millions of immigrants who share our blessings of liberty – more than 80 million immigrants since official records began in 1820. These immigrants came and continue to come and enjoy the same inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that our founders declared to be the rightful inheritance of all mankind.

Immigration continues to stir controversy, as it has in decades past. But Americans should pause on this Fourth of July to consider the contributions that immigrants and their children have made to the core values we celebrate today.

Most immigrants come from countries where citizens do not enjoy freedoms that we take for granted. Many of them have suffered under governments that stifle economic initiative and other basic liberties. For those immigrants and their families, America represents a life-changing opportunity.

Almost every American has witnessed first-hand the work ethic of immigrants – whether they are engineers and nurses or landscape gardeners and cab drivers. Many of our most successful technology startup companies were founded by immigrants. One recent study found that two-thirds of the students who won high-profile competitions in science, technology, engineering and math were the children of immigrants.


Immigrants have also contributed to the defense of liberty by supporting and serving in the U.S. military. In the American Civil War, 18 percent of the Union Army was comprised of immigrants. Of the select group of soldiers who have won the Congressional Medal of Honor since 1861, 20 percent, or more than 700, were born outside the United States.

Today, America’s active duty military includes 65,000 immigrants – with Mexico and the Philippines as the top countries of origin. About 12 percent of all U.S. veterans are immigrants or the children of immigrants.

As America has proven since its birth, freedom is both a precious commodity and an unlimited resource: It’s precious in that most people around the world still do not enjoy the full political, civil and economic freedom they deserve as human beings. It’s unlimited in that one person’s newfound freedom as an immigrant to the United States does not by necessity diminish the freedom of those already here.

May all Americans, current and aspiring, enjoy a happy Fourth of July!

Daniel Griswold is a senior research fellow and the co-director of the Program on the American Economy and Globalization with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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