Like Donald Trump, I am an entrepreneur and investor, and I am also driven by a desire to “make America great again.” But he and I have very different visions about how to do that, especially around the issue of immigration.
I have tried to steer clear of politics and focus on policy — in particular, the policies that can help the United States remain the world’s most innovative, entrepreneurial nation. That led me to become an advocate for the bipartisan Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act to help more entrepreneurs start and grow their companies. And that led me to push for immigration reform, as it’s clear to me that we are beginning to lose what is now a global battle for talent. I understand that immigration policy is sensitive and complex, but I’ve long believed it’s not just a problem we need to solve, but also an opportunity to seize.
And that’s why I am troubled by Trump’s statements on immigration. While we can all agree about the need to secure our borders and enforce our laws, Trump’s proposed solutions are too extreme and his language too caustic. Trump has equated immigrants with criminals and proposed rounding up millions of hardworking people and deporting them. He has called for undoing a 147-year-old provision in our Constitution — advocated for by allies of slain President Abraham Lincoln and passed by a Republican Congress — to deny U.S. citizenship to everyone born in this country.
If we want to make America great again, it is hard to imagine a more wrongheaded approach. Study after study has shown that immigrants are net job creators, net taxpayers, net additions to national growth. As I told the Senate Judiciary Committee when I testified before it two years ago, 40 percent of Fortune 500 businesses were started by immigrants or their children, including Google, Yahoo and Honeywell. Immigrants are almost twice as likely as U.S.-born workers to start a company and create jobs for others.
If you are a conservative, you should know that the data show that immigrants help reduce the national deficit and pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. If you are a liberal, you should know that the data show that contributions from immigrants are helping to extend the lifespan of Social Security and Medicare.
And yet, the United States is one of the few nations on earth that still pursues self-defeating anti-immigrant economic policies such as educating young people from all around the world — and then refusing to allow them to stay in our country to start businesses and create jobs for others. Economic rivals from China to Canada are doing everything possible to lure these future job creators to their shores — but not the United States. Our head-in-the-sand policies put our future at risk, and our insensitive language may scare away the very people whom we need to attract.
The argument for standing up to the current anti-immigration fever goes beyond purely economic considerations. The United States is an immigrant nation. Nearly all of us are immigrants or the offspring of someone who immigrated here. Some of our ancestors were welcomed, others were greeted by earlier waves of hostility. Yes, we’re a nation of laws, but we’re also a nation of opportunity, and a nation that prides itself on welcoming the tired and poor to our shores. How can we now disparage others who equally want to be part of our nation, its culture and its future?
Yes, America does have problems. Too many people can’t find jobs, wages are flat, the gap between rich and poor is growing, the government is running a deficit, crime in some places remains high. And for many there’s a troubling sense that our society is spinning out of control. The anger that comes from these realities — and these fears — is legitimate and demands a reply. But none of these things — none of them — can be blamed so simplistically on immigrants.
As Ronald Reagan once said, “If there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” It is time for business leaders, civic groups, entrepreneurs and community and religious leaders to speak out against the rising tide of anti-immigrant activism that is fueling the Trump campaign and that, sadly, is the kerosene that Trump himself is pouring on the fire. Blaming the hardworking men and women seeking to make a decent life for themselves and their children is wrong. And it is time for those of us who truly want to make America great again to stand up for the approach most likely to do so: acknowledging the vast contribution of immigrants to our economy, welcoming them to our shores and fixing our broken immigration system by — finally — coming together in a bipartisan fashion and passing immigration reform.
Steve Case, a co-founder of America Online, is chairman and chief executive of Revolution.