In its current state of dysfunction, immigration reform is one of several hot-button issues the U.S. Congress debates with rancor and vitriol but seemingly little view to the future and vigor of our society.
Both sets of my grandparents immigrated to the United States – the great melting pot – from Eastern Europe in the early twentieth century. My dad came to America as a 13-year-old. He spoke no English but put himself through school and became a pharmacist. Thanks to his hard work, I was privileged to attend superb universities and have tried to give back to the nation that welcomed my family.
Living on our country’s southern border for 18 years, I saw many first- and second-generation Mexican immigrants contributing in so many ways to our society, people, and cultural richness. When I came to Penn State a few years ago and visited a brilliant neuroscientist at our flagship campus in State College, I observed that almost all of his post-docs were from foreign countries, all full of scientific curiosity and drive.
From its foundation, the U.S. has prided itself on its open arms, embodied in our Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. One generation after the next for more than two centuries have been leavened and energized by the vigor of immigrants. The success of capitalism requires creation of capital which, in turn, demands energy and new ideas. Often these emerge from the passions and restlessness of new Americans.
Today more than ever we worry about security. No one wants to open ourselves to terrorists or criminals. But if we build boundaries and barriers too high, if we stop the melting, if we no longer welcome the hungry—including those hungry to learn and create—I fear we will lose part of our souls and impoverish our future.
-Alan J. Gelenberg, M.D.
Editor, Biological Therapies in Psychiatry
Shively/Tan Professor and Chair, Psychiatry, Penn State University
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry