Matt Salisbury is a writer, designer and entrepreneur living in San Diego, CA.  He's currently a Partner and Chief Creative Officer at Yellow Line Media, a content marketing company. Matt's a devout Catholic and believes the social encyclicals make business sense.

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Immigrants: Strivers or Survivors?

By Matt Salisbury

Well, which are they?

Mark Zuckerberg (why are we calling him Zuck?) made some waves with recent political noises. He claims to be neither Democrat or Republican. Mark wants to be a problem solver, not a partisan. And he’s especially interested in solving one issue: immigration. Now, I’m registered as an Independent myself, but you have to know where your “red lines” are on the issues, right? Prudential judgment needs both prudence and wisdom. Both call on understanding.

Last year, liberal, soda-hating, regulation-hungry, debonair man-about-town Michael Bloomberg sided with America’s Catholic bishops on an issue the Dems are able to make lemonade out of on the regular. You guessed it. We’re talking immigration again. Now, sure, public policy often makes strange bedfellows. But what’s probably more interesting than where the two sides agree is where they differ. Each presents a distinct view of the modern immigrant in the US.

Bloomberg paints a classic liberal picture of today’s immigrants as noble strivers, trying to build on solid work ethics, humble talent, rich backgrounds, etc. He claims to be less about the tired yearning masses than the economic and social potential brought by dynamic new workers. The USCCB, on the other hand, paints a decidedly more stark portrait of US immigration problems, arguing that, “survival has become the primary impetus for the unauthorized immigration flows.” The bishops also launched a Justice For Immigrants campaign. The USCCB paints a stark picture of the need for reform:

  • There are approximately 11.2 M illegal immigrants in the USA
  • Only 5,000 green cards awarded each year for low-skilled workers to enter the US
  • Thousands of immigrants have died attempting to enter the US illegally

A fundamental division seems to exist between Bloomberg and the bishops. Immigrants are either noble strivers, or they’re an oppressed group of survivors desperately seeking a better environment. Our political narrative might hold that the first group is an asset to any nation; the second is sure to be a drain on the host country’s tax-supported resources and social programs. If immigrants are essentially refugees, we can put them in camps and disassociate them with “aid” and “charity,” right? But if they’re strivers who bring a burning need for self-betterment, we should fling those doors wide open.

Of course, this distinction paints a relatively simplistic image of immigrants to America. A college friend of mine became an “illegal” immigrant as a child, and he became one of the most disciplined strivers I knew despite his unpapered handicap. Another friend’s dad sweat his way into this country in the bed of a pickup, covered by plywood boards and mounds of glass shards. I know I didn’t take a journey like that to get here. I didn’t create this nation. I’ve never bled for it. I’ve never upended my life for it. I pay taxes, I guess, but so do citizens of every nation.

I’m no survivor, and every day I struggle to just be a striver. Immigrants are most always at least one, and often, they’re both.

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