YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Memorial Day: A Time for Tallying Contributions

Immigration: A government panel reports the dollar line; the heart acknowledges those who gave their lives for our country.

May 25, 1997|FRANK del OLMO | Frank del Olmo is assistant to the editor of The Times and a regular columnist

While surely prestigious and important, a new report by the National Academy of Sciences on the economic impact of recent immigrants is really not all that surprising.

After laboring for almost two years, a dozen experts in economics, demographics and sociology wound up producing a 500-page tome that came to the same balanced conclusion that any reasonably open-minded person would come to after comparing the many other studies that have been produced over the last two decades on an admittedly contentious issue:

Immigrants help the U.S. economy and are not the harbingers of demographic doom that some immigration restrictionists fear. Immigration is not a big boon, to be sure--the estimated $10 billion that immigrants generate is barely a ripple in a $3 trillion economy--but it is a net benefit nonetheless.

That said, however, the migration of many productive young workers into the United States does bring with it social costs, like the expense of educating their children. And those costs are the highest in states that are popular destinations for new immigrants, like California. But in the long run, those costs diminish as immigrants' children finish school, start working and begin to pay taxes.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 1, 1997 Home Edition Opinion Part M Page 5 Op Ed Desk 2 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Correction
Medal of Honor: Frank del Olmo's column May 25 quoted Fullerton attorney Frederick Aguirre as saying that 17 Mexican Americans won the Medal of Honor "in World War II and Korea." The correct total is 38, with 17 awarded in World War II and 21 in the Korean War. While not the highest absolute number of any ethnic group, it is the highest percentage among all ethnic groups, according to Defense Department statistics.

So what else is new?

Not much, truth be told. The panel did provide a valuable service in specifically rejecting the argument that African Americans are particularly harmed by competition from low-wage immigrants. A few anti-immigrant groups have tried to sell that divisive canard, perhaps to avoid being labeled racist for objecting to the surge in immigrants from Latin America and Asia. But the expert panel found that none of the available evidence supports that claim.

Still, it would be naive to expect even as sober and comprehensive a study as the Academy of Science's to completely calm all concerns about this country's immigration future. For the qualms many Americans have about immigration are not based just on numbers, but on fears that can't be quantified. Many well-meaning readers who write to me, for example, question whether today's immigrants are the same sturdy caliber of people as the last great wave of immigrants who came to this country at the turn of the century, mostly from Europe.

In that respect, the timing of the academy report's release close to Memorial Day was fortuitous. This year, when we recall our past military sacrifices, it would be good to remember the immigrants and the children of immigrants who gave their lives for our country. Not all were from Europe.

Today in Santa Ana, for instance, Latino activists will hold a special program in honor of Mexican American war veterans. It was organized by Fullerton attorney Frederick Aguirre, who initially wanted to honor his 77-year-old father and other local veterans of World War II. But Aguirre has expanded the program to acknowledge Latino contributions in the Korean War and other American conflicts. He wants to remind his neighbors in Orange County, where the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 originated, of what Latino immigrants have done for the United States.

"More than half a million American soldiers of Mexican ancestry served in World War II and Korea," Aguirre points out. "And 17 won the Medal of Honor, more than any single ethnic group. Such heroism and patriotism must be acknowledged and celebrated."

Latinos are not alone in celebrating such heroism. On a recent visit to Hawaii, I was struck by the number of monuments there honoring the men of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. They remain, for their size and length of service, the most decorated military units in U.S. history. Both units were composed of second-generation Japanese Americans, mostly from Hawaii but also from the mainland. And while their families were considered security risks and forced to live in internment camps, these nisei soldiers proved their loyalty to this country on battlefields throughout Europe.

I knew that history before my trip to Hawaii, of course. But I did learn something new, and troubling, on a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. Prior to the Japanese attack of Dec. 7, 1941, U.S. military commanders were so fearful of sabotage that Army Air Corps planes at Hickam and Wheeler fields were parked wingtip to wingtip, so they might be more easily guarded. But that also made them more easy to destroy when the Japanese bombers attacked.

To be sure, there were Japanese spies in Hawaii before Pearl Harbor. But if American military commanders had just a bit more faith in the Japanese American residents of the islands, the Pearl Harbor attack might not have been so devastating.

I've long thought that if we just keep a calm, long-term perspective on today's immigration problems, we may find that this nation's proud immigrant history will repeat itself once again. When all is said and done, the value of the Academy of Sciences report lies in how effectively it makes a similar point.

Los Angeles Times Articles