Donald Trump doesn’t get it about immigration.
Oh, he certainly understands the impact of his offensive, anti-Mexican comments on the dwindling Republican base. Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Ted Cruz and many Fox News viewers are cheering. Trump’s racist remarks may have elevated his Presidential chances from side show to main ring.
But Trump — and many others — get it wrong about immigration.
In the speech launching his campaign last month, he told a cheering audience, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best….They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us.”
What Trump doesn’t understand is the power of immigration isn’t in attracting the “best,” but in attracting people who have no opportunity elsewhere and will do everything possible to succeed in America. What has made America great is that we take everyone — what Emma Lazurus called, in the poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty, “…your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore…”
The best and the brightest, the elites from foreign countries, bring money and sophistication. And that’s good. But the “wretched refuse” bring new ideas. And that’s great.
Trump, a billionaire real estate mogul, probably has a soft spot for elites. He graduated from the prestigious Wharton School at the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania and inherited the real estate business from his father. He worked hard to make the business even bigger — and the Trump name a national brand — but he certainly had a head start.
His grandfather, however, was an immigrant. Friedrich Drumpf emigrated from Germany by way of Canada and began his career running a restaurant and hotel in British Columbia during the Klondike Gold Rush. (He was probably a legal immigrant, as there were fewer restrictions a century ago, but who knows.)
The ability of people with little means and education to excel in America is both counter-intuitive and powerful. One reason is that immigrants self-select. It takes courage and intelligence to leave your homeland and cross a heavily guarded border. Those who make it have something special.
“There’s something inherently entrepreneurial about leaving your home to start a new life in another country,” write Dane Stangler and Jason Wiens of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. “Perhaps that is why immigrants tend to start businesses at a disproportionately higher rate than native-born Americans.”
Their research shows that more than 40 percent of the Fortune 500 companies in 2010 were founded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant
Adolf Hitler famously called America a “mongrel people” and said we were incapable of defeating his racially pure Nazi Germany in World War II. Somehow the pure-bred Germans missed radar, penicillin, computers, long-range fighter planes, proximity fuses and atomic energy. They lost. The factories of Detroit, staffed by immigrants from Eastern Europe and African Americans from the South, were more than a match for a sophisticated Germany.
As Trump doubles down on the venom, calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “murders,” it’s important to remember the America’s real strength is its welcoming openness to new people with fresh ideas.
Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.