#IHM2016: Celebrating Immigrants' Contributions in the United States
For many immigrants, the reasons for migrating to the United States can be similar, however each story is different and unique. Each immigrant has a personal story and a unique experience of integration.
The reasons for migrating have been cited as pursuing career opportunities, finding refuge and moving for love, as shared with IOM Washington through personal interviews on the occasion of Immigrant Heritage Month.
"I came here because I had fallen in love with an American woman," said Mauricio from El Salvador. “I met her while she was vacationing in El Salvador. We stayed in touch for a while but the distance was difficult. I decided to come and be closer to her,” he added.
Out of 244 million international migrants, the United States was home to 42.4 million immigrants in 2014, or 13 percent of its total population, according to the United States Census Bureau. The US has also the highest total number of immigrants, accounting for 19 percent of the world's immigrants.
Since 2014, the United States has celebrated Immigrant Heritage Month in June, an initiative that brings together partner community organizations, elected officials, corporations, artists, and thought leaders to share inspirational and personal stories of American immigrants.
Through the ongoing i am a migrant campaign, IOM Washington has joined the celebrations by showcasing the voices and faces of immigrants and children of immigrants.
"My parents taught me to cherish the roots of my homeland, while expressing gratitude and loyalty to my adopted country," said Manal Omar, born in Saudi Arabia to Palestinian parents. She moved to Lubbock, Texas, when she was six-months old.
Manal is currently the Associate Vice President at the Center for the Middle East and Africa at the US Institute for Peace in Washington, D.C.
Throughout the month of June, IOM Washington will also be inviting non-immigrants to be part of the celebrations and to speak of the US's long tradition of welcoming foreigners and integrating them into the American fabric.
"America is an idea; it only becomes realized by those who have come to her shores, crossed her borders, and built her into a nation as good as its promise," noted Charles Davis, Director and Lecturer at the Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education at Penn Graduate School of Education.
A Toxic Narrative
Countering xenophobic discourse and highlighting the benefits of migration have been a long-time concern for the International Organization for Migration. The recent spike in such sentiments has meant that this has become a full-time job.
The xenophobic narrative is omnipresent in European countries and the United States alike. Unfortunately, this is part of a pattern that has been seen before. In the middle half of the nineteenth century, when Germans and Irish came to American shores, they had to deal with bigotry and stereotypes.
Today, the same fears are being raised about Latin American, Middle Eastern and Muslim immigrants in the United States. Often these fears are further exploited in the political arena, particularly around election time.
Despite their own vulnerabilities and challenges, immigrants are often blamed for wanting to change the customs and traditions of the hosting nation. Not only do such perceptions have no sound basis, they also create a dangerous rhetoric aimed at creating a culture of fear and suspicion.
In 2016, there are more people on the move than at any other time in history. The contributions immigrants make in their adopted country as well as in their countries of origin are a well-established fact. The US is a perfect example, with immigrants starting more than a quarter of new businesses in the country. According to Inc magazine, in 2010, immigrant-owned businesses generated more than $775 billion in sales.
Immigrants are not only creating businesses and generating incomes that benefit the nation's wealth, they are also enriching US politics, culture, literacy, music and sports. Take the example of Junot Diaz, Dominican-born writer, winner of the Pulitzer-prize for his book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, or of Madeleine Albright, the first female Secretary of State of the United States, born in Czechoslovakia. Immigration is an integral part of the United States’ history and should be celebrated. IOM promotes well managed and regular migration and also believes in the United States remaining a welcoming nation..
Hajer Naili is a journalist and the Communications and Social Media Coordinator at IOM Washington, D.C.