As uplifting images appeared of Afghan families arriving in this county amid searing images of those left behind, we were gratified to see New York’s Kathy Hochul invite them to our state.
“New York is stepping up to once again serve as a beacon of hope and refuge,” the newly minted governor said. “The richness of culture and community that refugees and immigrants bring to our state is beyond measure, and the message to the world in no uncertain terms is that our state is committed to helping those who seek shelter on our shores.”
Hochul was joined by both Republican and Democratic governors in inviting those who assisted the United States in its 20-year war and their families, who now face physical threats and, in the case of women, subjugation from the Taliban at home.
This is in keeping with the message inscribed on Lady Liberty in New York Harbor, President Reagan’s farewell message about America as a “shining city on the hill” and many other words in praise of the vision of America as a nation of immigrants.
Not that this vision is shared by everyone – even when it comes to Afghans who supported the men and women in our armed forces.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tweeted that “we should rescue Afghans who’ve assisted the U.S. military, but they should go to a neutral, safe third country. They should NOT come to US w/o a FULL security vetting.”
Who this neutral and safe third county is Cruz does not say, but shouldn’t the United States be the first place to send the immigrants since they were supporting our soldiers? Besides, Cruz knows that those immigrants coming have already been vigorously screened.
This is nothing new. Immigrants seeking to flee death and violence have often faced similar objections as when a ship carrying 937 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution in 1939 was turned away from Cuba and denied entry to the United States and Canada. So we are not surprised.
The Afghan immigrants are no doubt a special case and we should offer safe haven to anyone who worked with us.
We also wish that we could take in all those fleeing violence, poverty, an absence of freedom – the huddled masses of Emma Lazarus’ poem on the Statue of Liberty.
That is something that we offered until as late as the 1920s when immigration laws were enacted to restrict newcomers.
But as President Joe Biden noted, the number of Afghans likely to want to come to the United States would be in the millions – something this country would no longer permit.
And what about people from other countries fleeing violence, poverty and an absence of freedom?
Their opportunities are now greatly limited, particularly by a Republican Party that has built its political fortunes on anti-immigrant sentiments aimed especially at brown-skinned people at the southern border.
It is true that this country must be able to control its own borders. But it is also true that many in Mexico and Central America face economic hardship as well as threats to their safety.
And even leaving aside our image as a beacon of hope, there is a practical consideration to the question of how many immigrants we welcome to our shores and who gets to select them.
The recently released census numbers show that over the past decade the United States grew at the second slowest rate since the government started counting in 1790, a change driven by a declining birthrate and a slowdown in immigration.
These census numbers also highlight the continuation of a long-running trend in which the South and the West gain population – and the congressional representation that comes with it – at the expense of the Northeast and Midwest. New York state’s loss will be one congressional seat.
But Long Island’s population increased 3.1 percent, with Nassau gaining 4.2 percent and Suffolk County 2.2 percent despite a decrease in the number of whites living here.
The reason? A large gain in Hispanics and Asians. Minorities now make up 42.2 percent of Nassau County’s population and 36.6 percent of Suffolk County’s.
Although not all Hispanics or Asians are immigrants, many are and that – despite the rhetoric – is a good thing.
Statistically, immigrants – legal and otherwise – are more entrepreneurial, less likely to have children out of wedlock and commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans.
They are also more likely to appreciate the freedom and opportunity in this country. It is hard to find someone more motivated than a person who was willing to give up everything to find opportunity somewhere else.
And immigrants comprise a pool of employees at a time when labor shortages weigh heavily on many industries. This inhibits business growth.
But the census shows that 39 of New York’s 62 counties lost population, even as the state’s overall population increased modestly by about 4 percent.
New York followed decades-long national trends of people moving to cities. More than half of all U.S. counties lost population, whereas about 80 percent of metropolitan areas grew, census officials said.
All of New York City’s boroughs showed population gains with Brooklyn leading the city and state with an increase of 9.7 percent, adding more than 230,000 people for a final count of 2.7 million.
Meanwhile, rural counties upstate and in western New York continued to lose population – as have rural areas across the country.
Immigration could offer a solution to the decline in population upstate and in western New York as well as the drop in tax collections.
But it would require common sense – something that is often in short supply when it comes to immigration – and a couple of changes.
The first would be quotas, which is in the hands of the federal government.
If the federal government would allocate – and possibly raise – quotas on how many people could immigrate into the country by state, those states that are anti-immigrant could take in fewer. And those seeking more people could take in more with their immigration status predicated on their working in that state.
Those states taking in more immigrants could then incentivize new arrivals for places in the state suffering from population declines or labor shortages. Or not.
Afghans who worked alongside Americans would be in the front of the line. But other immigrants seeking the safety and opportunity that has attracted newcomers to our shores for generations should also be welcomed.
At least in the places that appreciate what immigrants bring.