Immigrants Pay The Highest Compliment

Thomas F Campenni
4 min readSep 5, 2022

Immigration is a tricky problem and getting more so.

While the southern border is our weak spot for entry, any way someone can come into the country is being tried. How we address the problem of people wanting to immigrate here will either make our efforts successful in keeping our borders intact or not. The answer isn’t walls or more troops but rather a combined effort of economic and other aid and immigration programs to make staying in the migrant’s own country a viable alternative than attempting a dangerous crossing.

Before we get into what some call “illegal border crossers” we need to address those wanting to come to the U.S. legally. Since the last administration, we have stopped accepting political refugees for the most part. Most refugees usually had a stable society until an event occurred beyond their control bringing a danger to remaining in their own country.

As an example, we should be opening our gates to people from Ukraine. They are highly educated and hard working. The U.S. should be taking as many from the worn torn country who want to come here either temporarily or permanently. Some Ukrainians will want to go return home after the war. Most will stay and become Americans and contribute to our wellbeing as a nation.

For 20 years, our armed forces worked with Afghanis. Without their assistance, Americans could not have done anything in that country. Those who helped us demonstrated a willingness to put their own lives in jeopardy for the mission. Because they were associated with us their lives are in danger if they remain.

Many that were our allies were educated and to some extent knowledgeable about our society. All Afghanis that were our allies who want to settle here should be welcomed with open arms. Families fleeing the Taliban are our friends and should be treated that way.

Young people from all over the world come here temporarily on student visas. We require these highly trained and educated men and women upon graduation who want to remain to jump through hoops to stay in America. As columnist Tom Freidman said, a green card should be attached to every doctorate degree.

Some of us grew up with parents and grandparents who immigrated to this country. Those that came in the first decades of the 20th century needed to be able to pay the ship passage and little else to qualify for entry. Once here, they were examined for diseases, asked a few questions about political beliefs, inspectors determined whether they were criminals, and asked about family. Most were detained for four or so hours and then sent on their way to be part of America.

Their descendants cry that today’s immigrant needs to come into the US legally as their own grandparents did. They little realize if the same criteria used today were applied then, those descendants would not be an American today. I am not advocating for open borders, but at the same time it should not take years to obtain legal entry.

Americans always think that their problems are unique. Those on our southern border are caused by the same factors that Europe is currently facing from across the Mediterranean Sea. People in countries to the south are faced with insurmountable problems in their home countries. Whether they are attempting to cross into Europe from Africa or the U.S. from Central America, those migrants are fleeing political instability, weather fragility, and economic collapse.

No amount of passing laws, building walls, armed border patrol, or anything else will stop desperate people with no alternatives from pushing north. That holds true whether it is across the Mediterranean or the Rio Grande. What would help are economic and trade agreements to foster jobs in locations where the labor pool currently exists.

Decades ago, when I was a property manager in New York’s garment district, many of the tenants were sewing contractors. There would be hundreds of immigrant women at machines sewing cheap blouses and shirts for the American market. The contractors were literally using mostly illegal workers to make their product and of course call it American made.

Four decades later, most of that work is done in places like Vietnam and Bangladesh where the labor is. We should be encouraging sewing factories in Guatemala and El Salvador. If their needs can be met by doing so, then more would not attempt to come here.

Most immigrants coming from Central America are unskilled labor. We need some unskilled labor such as farm workers and restaurant workers. If we centralize all manufacturing here and believe that will make us stronger, we are wrong. The United States and Europe do not have the labor capacity to do so. In some respects, by trying to do so we are encouraging that immigration to fill those jobs.

There is no population growth in the US, and in fact without immigration, we are shrinking and growing older as a nation. We do need immigrants of all kinds and lots of them. It is time to stop demonizing those who want to pay the United States the highest compliment…that of becoming an American.

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Thomas F Campenni

Currently lives in Stuart Florida and former City Commissioner. His career has been as a commercial real estate owner, broker and manager in New York City.