Our country is a nation built upon great ideas. American values have been the key to our success and vitality; however, throughout our history it has been the muscle, sweat, ingenuity and dreams of immigrants that have fueled our nations prosperity.
Our success has come through the hard work and sacrifice of many generations of immigrants. Welcoming those who have come to the United States seeking a better life has made our nation stronger. We have, by invitation at Liberty Island, said to the world: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free and we have embraced them. The United States is a like a rope woven of many strands, strengthening our increasingly diverse nation. We are a shining beacon to those who want to pursue their dreams those who are willing to sacrifice all they have, even willing to be jailed, for the chance to be free and make their dreams a reality.
Once again, we are witnessing political debates over those who seek freedom and economic opportunity. As a conservative, I am dismayed by the politicization of immigration. This important issue is a social, moral and economic matter and should be addressed in a nonpartisan, thoughtful manner, bringing many voices to the table. As a Floridian, I am proud to see our United States Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, and members of Congress, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, step forward as leaders in these vital discussions. Former Gov. Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick have co-authored a book, "Immigration Wars," which is a must-read for anyone in search of reasonable discourse on the topic.
Immigrants have always brought energy to our cities and added value to the American promise. Beginning in 1846, waves of Irish Catholics traveled to America, settling primarily in ghettos along the Eastern Seaboard. As Americans, each one of us is descended from immigrants. More than half of my ancestors journeyed to America in 1650, and more came with the arrival of Irish immigrants in 1846. These individuals were separated by culture, education level, and also by language as most spoke Irish, not English. They braved the treacherous voyage across the sea in what were later called coffin ships, a symbol of the deplorable transport conditions that caused many deaths along the way. These new Americans were unskilled and mostly illiterate, but they brought the burning desire for opportunity and willingness to do the most humble and difficult jobs to earn a living wage. The Old Immigration was comprised of new Americans arriving from Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, Germany and China on the United States West Coast. In 1890, the New Immigration began with a population influx composed of Italian, Slavic, and Jewish immigrants from across Europe. This new group of immigrants filled jobs as laborers, farm workers, miners, and, in the 20th century, as emergent factory workers. Like many of those from Latin America who come to the United States today, a large portion of the new immigrants returned home. Of more than 5 million Italian immigrants during this period, about 50 percent returned to Italy after earning and saving enough money.
The debates that fuel the Immigration Wars are very much the same today as in decades past. Immigrants have been labeled as outsiders and viewed as different by many, not thought of by some as equals. Yet we share the same desire and the same passion to build a better life for our families, to grow, prosper and to breathe free. In Florida, times are changing and our economy is expanding, but construction, hospitality and agriculture will continue to be mainstay industries in our state. These sectors of our economy rely heavily upon immigrant labor. As the economy continues to advance and diversify, we are seeing a growing demand for scientists and engineers. Yet our rigidly foolish immigration system forces the scientists, engineers, doctors and even philosophers who come to the United States for higher education and receive their degree, to return home, even though many wish to remain here, contributing to our global economic competitiveness. As a nation, we are educating the talented and missing out on the profits. Forcing these intelligent students to return home only ensures that they will be tough competition in the world marketplace.
We are a nation that has long served as a symbol of freedom and opportunity. We need to retain, maybe recapture, these virtues. How we handle our immigration issues will have much to do with our success or failure. We must find ways to secure our lengthy borders, but that cannot be an excuse to delay productive conversations about immigration. We must find a way to manage the millions of immigrants already living among us with stable jobs and families. We must fix our broken system, setting aside partisan differences in search of reasonable solutions. Our future depends on it.
Dr. Ed Moore is president and CEO of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida.