Recently released Census data indicates that nearly one in five Americans are immigrants or children of at least one immigrant parent.
In my New York City household, we skew the data; my husband and I are immigrants, as is our child, who was born in London. Unlike her parents, who had to navigate a new homeland in our youth, our daughter has lived in New York City since she was a baby. She's aware of difference but not burdened by it. She is fortunate enough to be part of a diverse city, with many other children of immigrants as friends and classmates. With us, she resides in a city of immigrants, led by a Mayor who understands that immigration policy "profoundly affects our city's future."
Much of what Mayor Bloomberg said in his State of the City speech will be cause for debate, but what resonated for me was his articulation once again of the need for Congress to fix our nation's broken immigration system stands out as a rare rational voice on this issue. The Mayor has long been an outspoken advocate for immigrants, at least since 2002 when I served as his Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs. Then, as now, anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobia shaped too much of the discourse in our country. Mayor Bloomberg's call to Congress to "pass sensible economically smart immigration reform, and to pass it this year" is a policy call our new Congress needs to hear.
Since 1965, America's population has diversified more than ever before, with immigrants from countries as diverse as China, the Dominican Republic, India, Mexico, and many others. Along with African Americans and Puerto Ricans, immigrants will form the new majority by 2040. In the next three decades, the needs of the growing Hispanic population and the increasingly diverse immigrant population will continue to inform virtually all our policy debates, in education, in healthcare and in economic development. Immigration reform is only the beginning, but it's the best place to start, if, in Mayor Bloomberg's words, we want to live up to "our highest values."
These values -- of tolerance for diversity, equal opportunity for all, freedom of expression -- are the ones that drew us, and other immigrant families here. We are as much responsible for upholding these values as we are for ensuring that our leaders are responsive to us. As the newest members of this democracy, we must ensure that our contributions -- through civic engagement and political participation -- inform policy development in the country we now call home.