Immigration is one of the United States' most distinguishing characteristics, helping drive economic growth and defining national identity since the country's founding. Immigrants across the generations have made America the land of opportunity: a nation that values self-reliance, freedom, and democracy and welcomes those willing to work hard for a better future.
Although the United States has a strong and unique heritage as a nation of immigrants, the integration of newcomers has always presented serious challenges for both the newcomers and the communities that receive them.
Historically, when Americans view the present and future with confidence and optimism, immigrants and the benefits they bring are valued and celebrated. But when faced with economic downturns, national-security concerns, and high volume immigration, U.S. society often becomes less welcoming and even hostile to immigrants. Our national ambivalence about immigrants and their role in American society creates formidable barriers to immigrant integration and community cohesion.
Yet immigrants and their descendants, throughout the course of U.S. history, have overcome these barriers and have made substantial contributions to our country. Indeed, the quintessential American narrative as a nation of immigrants derives its power from the many generations of newcomers who have successfully pursued the American Dream, bettered their lives and those of their children, and enriched American society in the process. Similarly, other groups, such as Native Americans and African-Americans, have contributed significantly to the nation's prosperity despite enduring enormous hardship.
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the unprecedented level of migration around the world, the high volume of immigration to the United States, and immigrants' expanding role in American society create imperatives for immigrant integration. To continue thriving as a nation, we must be intentional about weaving newcomers into the fabric of society. How well we integrate immigrants and provide opportunities for all community members has far-reaching implications for--and is inextricable from--our current and future vitality.