Since the death of Apple cofounder and CEO Steve Jobs last Wednesday, people around the world have been reflecting on his legacy. Twitter and Facebook have been abuzz with paeans to iPods, iPhones, and iPads—and to the man without whom they would likely not exist. Radio and television reports have highlighted the influence that the Macintosh had in revolutionizing the computer market. Some were inspired to re-watch Toy Story or another film produced by Pixar, which Jobs also co-founded. I started thinking about the Apple 2G computer in my fourth grade classroom on which we used to play “Oregon Trail.” One can only speculate on how our world might be different had it not been for the life of Steve Jobs, but his life certainly impacted many, many people around the world.
What most of the eulogies have not highlighted is that Steve Jobs was the biological son of an immigrant from Syria. Jobs was adopted as an infant and raised by a family in California, but it’s still true that if his father had not migrated from Syria, Steve Jobs would never have been born. Beyond the millions of consumers whom that would have affected, it would also affect the approximately 50,000 people who are employed by Apple.
We often hear the rhetoric that immigrants “steal” jobs, but the reality is that immigrants and their children have been instrumental in creating millions of jobs. In fact, as authors Richard Herman and Robert Smith explain in their illuminating book Immigrant, Inc., more than half of the high-tech companies in Silicon Valley were founded by immigrants. In fact, immigrants founded or co-founded many of the most recognizable Internet and tech industry companies, including Yahoo, Google, YouTube, Hotmail, Intel, Sun Microsystems, and eBay. Together these—and many less recognizable companies begun by immigrant entrepreneurs—employ millions of US citizen workers.
Many of these immigrant entrepreneurs came to the U.S. as highly-skilled immigrants sponsored by an employer, but others came as children or young people. Google’s Sergey Brin was just six years old when he and his family escaped religious persecution in the former Soviet Union and came as refugees to the United States. Intel’s Andrew Grove fled Nazi persecution in Hungary and arrived as a young man in the U.S. The U.S. accepted both as immigrants, at the time, out of a sense of compassion; policymakers probably could not have imagined how much these individuals would enrich their adopted homeland in return. (And we might wonder, somberly, what sort of potential was wasted when our policies led us to refuse admission to those on the St. Louis, a boat filled with Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis in Germany in 1938, which the U.S. sent back to Europe—or to the millions of would-be immigrants whom our current policies exclude today).
Indeed, those who look at immigrants only as a potential drain on our economy and as competition for jobs neglect the reality that immigrants bring with them a unique entrepreneurial spirit and eagerness to work. In fact, a study by the Small Business Administration found that immigrants are 30% more likely that U.S. citizens to start small businesses, with immigrants from Mexico beginning more small businesses than any other country. Immigrants make up about half of the small business owners in New York City, whose mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has said that they “are why New York City became America’s economic engine,” because they “are dreamers and risk-takers who are driven to succeed, because they know that in America hard work and talent are rewarded like nowhere else.” (Bloomberg also says that our current federal immigration policy is “national suicide” and desperately in need of reform).
As columnist Michael Gerson has said in defending the DREAM Act—a bill that would allow bright, educated young immigrants to earn legal status by going on to college—immigrants “are not just mouths but hands and brains.” They are, to look at this from a theological perspective, people made in the image of the Creator God, with incredible potential to innovate (Genesis 1:27). When we view immigrants as anything less than that, we miss out on their potential for flourishing. Immigrants don’t steal jobs: they create them, and when our society legally limits their ability to innovate, start businesses, and build enterprises by ensuring that they cannot enter lawfully or obtain Social Security cards, we only hurt ourselves.
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
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