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Ask an immigrant about July 4

What a shame it is that so many Americans don’t take real delight in our nation. With Independence Day coming up, we ought to think enough about what the Founders gave us — and what our ancestors and, yes, we managed to hold onto for so long.

How sad it is that so many among us have contempt for the United States of America. Far from being special, we aren’t even acceptable, some self-proclaimed intellectuals assure us.

There are some people who don’t rely on the intellectuals to tell them why the USA is exceptional. They’re the folks who have every personal, practical reason to know the truth. They’re people who have chosen to come here.

Would it surprise you to learn that of that 327.1 million people the Census Bureau says live here, 44.6 million were born in other countries? That’s 13.6% percent of our population. Better than one in eight people in the United States decided to come here for a better life.

And they’re coming at a nearly unprecedented pace. During the decade from 2008-2017, the United States gained more than 10.7 million new, legal, permanent residents. Read that again: These are men, women and children who jumped through all the hoops to get here and stay here legally.

Estimates of the number of illegal immigrants vary from about 10 million to as many as 22 million. Most people seem to accept a number between 11 million and 16.7 million.

Are we being too harsh on those who would come here from other countries? Judge for yourself: In 2017, the percentage of foreign-born residents was the highest since 1910.

Leave aside our arguments about illegal immigration. An enormous number of people want to come here, one way or another. The surge seems to be growing. Last year, immigration authorities detained 396,579 people for trying to cross our borders illegally. In May of this year alone, the number was 132,887.

Now, many of the benefits of living in the United States can be enjoyed just by being here. Legal immigration status helps a good bit. But more immigrants than you may think don’t just want to be here. They want to be Americans.

More than 7.4 million of those born elsewhere have chosen to go through the rigorous process of naturalization — that is, becoming U.S. citizens. In fiscal 2016 alone (the most recent year for which I found statistics), 752,800 people became naturalized citizens.

To become naturalized, you have to be at least 18 years of age and have resided here legally for at least five years. You have to be of good moral character and be able to read, write and speak the English language. You have to have knowledge of U.S. history and government, and you must take the Oath of Allegiance to our nation.

It’s not for everyone. Yet nearly one in 40 of the people among us thought enough of the United States that they wanted to be full-fledged participants in what we’re doing here.

Where do they come from? In order of numbers of new citizens in 2017: Mexico, India, China, Philippines, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Vietnam, El Salvador, Colombia and Jamaica.

Perhaps the ultimate loyalty is demonstrated by non-citizens who serve us in uniform. There are about 35,000 of them in the military now. Not infrequently, they behave heroically. Many go on to become citizens.

We have been called a melting pot of nationalities. Here in the Ohio Valley, our heritage of various cultures is rich. Many hold onto their origins, perhaps going back many generations, but they consider themselves not Italian-American, Hungarian-American, Mexican-American — just American.

Familiarity breeds contempt, it is said. Perhaps that explains why so many native-born Americans feel either contempt for our nation or indifference toward it. The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill, they say.

But many among us have lived on the other side of the hill. They came here and found that the grass in America is as green as it gets.

Independence Day ought to be important to all of us. Ask an immigrant.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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