Immigrants are better than Americans, in part, because they know they must get involved in progressive politics, President Barack Obama told a group of selected immigrants.
“I’m proud to be among the first to greet you as ‘My fellow Americans’… We can never say it often or loudly enough: Immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America,” Obama claimed, while standing under a giant mural of the nation’s Founding Fathers.
Each year, Americans give birth to 4 million new Americans, and the country also takes in roughly 1 million new migrants from far-distant countries, cultures and ethnic groups. But those American-born Americans are, seemingly, a big disappointment to Obama.
The immigrants — not the American-born engineers, soldiers and doctors, for example — shoulder the hard work of supporting the nation, Obama suggested.
“Immigrants are the teachers who inspire our children, and they’re the doctors who keep us healthy. They’re the engineers who design our skylines, and the artists and the entertainers who touch our hearts. Immigrants are soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen who protect us, often risking their lives for an America that isn’t even their own yet,” he said.
“Immigrants like you are more likely to start your own business,” he declared.
As for hundreds of millions of non-immigrant Americans? They’re falling short, Obama complained.
“We haven’t always lived up to our own ideals. We haven’t always lived up to these documents,” he said, perhaps referring to the Constitution, which limits politicians’ power over ordinary Americans.
From the start, Africans were brought here in chains against their will, and then toiled under the whip. They also built America. A century ago, New York City shops displayed those signs, “No Irish Need Apply.” Catholics were targeted, their loyalty questioned — so much so that as recently as the 1950s and ’60s, when JFK had to run, he had to convince people that his allegiance wasn’t primarily to the Pope.
Chinese immigrants faced persecution and vicious stereotypes, and were, for a time, even banned from entering America. During World War II, German and Italian residents were detained, and in one of the darkest chapters in our history, Japanese immigrants and even Japanese American citizens were forced from their homes and imprisoned in camps.
We succumbed to fear. We betrayed not only our fellow Americans, but our deepest values. We betrayed these documents.
Further, Obama complained that the children of actual Americans just aren’t up to the job of transforming their country. He has a point — many of his American supporters failed to turn out in the 2010 or 2014 mid-terms, complicating his plan to fundamentally transform America.
The truth is, being an American is hard. Being part of a democratic government is hard. Being a citizen is hard. It is a challenge. It’s supposed to be. There’s no respite from our ideals. All of us are called to live up to our expectations for ourselves — not just when it’s convenient, but when it’s inconvenient. When it’s tough. When we’re afraid. The tension throughout our history between welcoming or rejecting the stranger, it’s about more than just immigration. It’s about the meaning of America, what kind of country do we want to be. It’s about the capacity of each generation to honor the creed as old as our founding: “E Pluribus Unum” — that out of many, we are one.
But Obama sees hope of a political recovery from immigrants’ votes.
Today is not the final step in your journey… Our system of self-government depends on ordinary citizens doing the hard, frustrating but always essential work of citizenship — of being informed. Of understanding that the government isn’t some distant thing, but is you. Of speaking out when something is not right. Of helping fellow citizens when they need a hand. Of coming together to shape our country’s course.
And that work gives purpose to every generation. It belongs to me. It belongs to the judge. It belongs to you. It belongs to you, all of us, as citizens. To follow our laws, yes, but also to engage with your communities and to speak up for what you believe in. And to vote — to not only exercise the rights that are now yours, but to stand up for the rights of others.
Obama and other Democrats have long pushed this theme — that immigrants are just better people than American-born citizens.
“By and large, we’re a nation of immigrants,” Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi told a crowd of illegal immigrants gathered for a pro-amnesty rally in October 2013, in a country of 270 million native-born Americans, and 40 million immigrants.
“We must remember the blood of immigrants flows through all of our veins, and all of the immigrants who come to America, whether it was a month ago or three hundred years ago, all of them bring their hopes, their determination, their optimism for the future, their commitment to family, faith and community,” she announced to the crowd on the national mall.
“In coming here with those American traits, all of the immigrants make America more American,” she said. “Thank you for making America more American,” she told the illegals.
In a November 2014 speech in Chicago, Obama poured out the compliments for migrants.
One study a few years ago found that immigrants start more than a quarter of all new businesses in the United States — one-quarter of them. Another study found that immigrants and their children start over 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies… it makes sense, because being a nation of immigrants gives us this huge entrepreneurial advantage over other nations. If you are willing to strike out, go to someplace new, build from scratch — you’ve got that sense of being willing to take risks and being able to build something from scratch — you have that spirit, that’s part of what the American spirit is all about.
But actual Americans? They’re not as productive as migrants, and they’re too narrow-minded because they tend to prefer Americans to foreign people, he argued.
Part of what’s wonderful about America is also what makes our democracy hard sometimes, because sometimes we get attached to our particular tribe, our particular race, our particular religion, and then we start treating other folks differently. And that, sometimes, has been a bottleneck to how we think about immigration. If you look at the history of immigration in this country, each successive wave, there have been periods where the folks who were already here suddenly say, well, I don’t want those folks. Even though the only people who have the right to say that are some Native Americans.
Obama made his intentions clear in 2006, when he wrote in his autobiography that immigrants can become the foundation of new political movement that transform Americans’ culture and politics, whether or not Americans want any transformations.
“In my mind, at least, the fates of black and brown were to be perpetually intertwined, the cornerstone of a coalition that could help America live up to its promise,” he wrote in “The Audacity of Hope.”
But you’ve got to break some American eggs to make transformational omelettes; “This huge influx of mostly low-skill workers provides some benefits to the economy as a whole… [but] it also threatens to depress further the wages of blue-collar Americans,” Obama admitted.
In 2013, Obama used the immigration laws to being in roughly 2 million foreign workers — plus women and children — in a year when 4 million Americans began looking for jobs. Unsurprisingly, wages flatlined while profits spiked and the stock market shot up to record highs.
Obama ended his Dec. 15 speech in Washington D.C., with the same passive-aggressive complaint about Americans’ inferiority to immigrants.
“You will not and should not forget your history and your past [which] adds to the richness of American life,” he told the new, vibrantly diverse immigrant citizens.
“But you are now American. You’ve got obligations as citizens,” said Obama, the nation’s organizer-in-chief. “And I’m absolutely confident you will meet them. You’ll set a good example for all of us, because you know how precious this thing is. It’s not something to take for granted. It’s something to cherish and to fight for.”