Many of America's best and brightest are immigrants

"We are one world and we are borderless. ... And for those that don't know that, you do now," said Maria Gabriela Aldana Enriquez during a march in Highlandtown for "A Day Without Immigrants." (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun video)

Just the other day, I read a long and interesting obituary in The Sun: that of Dr. Antemio Arciaga, an outstanding physician who made house calls and "never turned away a patient who couldn't pay." Dr. Arciaga was a Filipino immigrant.

And recently, on the BBC News, I saw demonstrated a unique invention: a bottle, jar or tube made with a distinctive chemical so that every bit of the contents would be used — from ketchup to toothpaste to paint. This invention, totally eliminating waste, would save millions of dollars. The inventor: an Indian immigrant who is a graduate student at MIT.


Of the six Nobel Prize winners in America in 2016, all six were immigrants. Indeed, more than one-third of U.S. Nobel Prize winners in chemistry, medicine, and physics have been immigrants. Since 1960, 23 immigrants won Nobel Prizes in chemistry, 20 in medicine and 21 in physics. These are amazing statistics that should not be ignored.

Clearly, immigration and public education are what make America great. Most people coming to this country cannot afford to send their children to private schools. To be sure, most immigrants come here not only to flee oppression but also for the free and quality education our public schools have long provided.


Speaking from my own experience, when I taught in New York's inner city schools in the 1960s, my best students — and best behaved students — were those from South American and African countries. Free education was not something they took for granted. To them and to their families it was a privilege, sorely lacking in the countries from whence they came, and they were determined to take advantage of this opportunity.

To continue to be the leader in the free world, America must move forward, rapidly, rather than look back at the manufacturing jobs of 60 years ago — jobs long replaced by robots and technology. Nor can we look back at mining jobs that pollute our atmosphere, causing health problems for young and old alike. We must educate our students and our workers in the new technologies.

So far, no other country has matched us in technological advances or in medical research. I hope that won't change.

Silicon Valley, responsible for billions of dollars in economic output, and a creator of thousands of jobs, is a perfect example of the successful contributions of educated immigrants. Approximately one-quarter of American tech companies have been founded entirely or in part by foreigners. And more than 52 percent of Silicon Valley start-ups between 1995 and 2005 were founded or co-founded by people born outside of the U.S.

Surely, most of us have heard of Intel, Yahoo, and, of course, Google. But how many know that Andy Grove, Intel's former chairman and CEO, was born in Hungary in 1936 and immigrated to the U.S. in his 20s. Or that Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo, was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and moved to San Jose, Calif. as a child with his parents. Or that Sergey Brin, who co-founded Google, came to the U.S. from his native Russia when he was six.

According to the National Science Foundation, 60 percent of doctoral degrees in engineering are awarded to foreign students here on temporary visas. Why would we want them to leave?

Paul Graham, a partner in Y Combinator, a venture-capital firm that provides funding to start-ups, claims that the U.S. government's recent immigration restrictions are "the biggest constraint on the number of new start-ups that get created in the U.S." And he said that in 2009, under the Obama administration.

So far, I've written about jobs at the top, for well-educated immigrants. But what about those jobs at the bottom — jobs that keep our country strong but that many native-born Americans prefer not to do? Dawn to dusk, back-breaking jobs, such as building houses, replacing roofs, landscaping, tarring roads, planting and harvesting crops and, especially here in Maryland, working on chicken farms and in the crab and oyster industries.

Several weeks ago, we witnessed one of the consequences of failing to take Syrian refugees, especially children, into our country. Our administration's small military raid "to retaliate" against the Syrians for gassing innocent citizens, many of them children, barely compensates for our president's immigrant phobia.

Our immigrants are not terrorists. Our mass shootings — the Connecticut school children, Columbine, the black church in South Carolina — were carried out by deranged Americans, not by immigrants. So much for the latest "foreigner fright."

Realistically, looking at our economy — from top to bottom — we should heed poet Emma Lazarus' words on our Statue of Liberty: "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Our immigrants, yearning to breathe free, have energized our country, making it smart and rich and great.

Lynne Agress, who teaches in the Odyssey Program of Johns Hopkins, is president of BWB-Business Writing At Its Best Inc. and author of "The Feminine Irony" and "Working With Words in Business and Legal Writing." Her email is lynneagress@aol.com.

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