Dr. Alan Kraut, Professor American University Washington D.C.
Aaryaman: Dr. Kraut, you are a distinguished member of the American Historical community and have been an advocate for immigrants over the course of your career. Please tell us a little about yourself.
Dr. Kraut: I am currently a Professor of History at American University and alongside my career as an educator I am an author of 9 books, primarily in the realm of ethnicity, immigration and health including “Silent Travelers: Germs, Genes and the “Immigrant Menace” which has received a few awards but more importantly it was the book that put me on the scene as somebody worth listening to in the immigration community. Following Silent Travelers and the success of my subsequent books, I served as the president of the prestigious Organization of American Historian until 2014 which was a tremendous honor for me and I was delighted to be able to speak about issues of general concern like the Refugee crisis and Immigrant culture to scholars are leaders in the field through this platform. In addition to this organization, I have been involved in American Immigration policy through my position as a Fellow of the Migration Policy Institute which is the largest immigration think-tank in the United States. The Institute is active in the DC diplomatic community and continues to debate and research the impact of immigration.
Aaryaman: You have spoken about Ellis Island and it’s influence on immigration to the US, have you been involved with any projects surrounding it?
Dr. Kraut: Absolutely, as a New Yorker I always wanted to get involved with it. In the early 1980s having published my first book, Huddled Masses, I was approached to lead a committee of renown engineers, academics and architects to restore the Statue of Liberty and construct a museum of immigration as testament to the thousands of people who arrived at the Port of Ellis Island, which was the flagship immigration depot where new arrivals would have their immigration papers checked before legally entering New York to begin their journey in this great nation. To most immigrants, this was their first experience of the United States and served as a symbol of acceptance and opportunity that the U.S prides itself on. The government was very concerned about immigrants becoming burdens and adding to public costs so the requirements for immigration were set in place to reflect this, yet an approximate of 97% of those who arrived were admitted so we can clearly see the need for labor and economic revitalization was met with the appropriate migration policies. If not for Ellis Island, America would not have had the influx of much-needed labor it needed during this time. These people didn’t come to steal jobs and become parasites, they came to the land of opportunity for precisely that- opportunity. In addition to the Museum of Immigration, now I am heading another committee to build the Statue of Liberty Museum which is set to be built by 2019.
Aaryaman: How do you feel about the current attitude towards immigrants in America?
Dr. Kraut: In recent years, especially under the current administration we have seen a rise in anti-immigrant, anti-refugee sentiments and Islamophobia which is indicative the duality of American culture over the past couple of centuries where certain ethnic groups including Arab, Japanese and Irish immigrants have faced resistance from American society yet, they have gone on to be invaluable members of that this very society. The phrase “ America beckons, Americans repel” still holds true in some capacity because the profound benefits of multiculturalism and immigration are rooted in the history of the United States, yet there have always been patterns of discrimination and prejudice. By no means is this a critique of all American people, but it is a generalization of a pertinent issue which is turning its ugly head once again. That said, we are seeing tremendous levels of support and social activism for refugees and immigrants from the American youth which is encouraging. Contemporary immigrants are the most educated and skilled in history with a high percentage of them already holding college degrees which is highly beneficial for businesses in the US, especially in the technology industry as seen in the Silicon Valley boom where 52% of startups were founded or co-founded by immigrant and produced over $50 Billion in sales, employing almost half a million people- primarily American citizens. Americans call their country a “Melting Pot” which is based on a furnace used to make alloys because American culture takes the best from a host of other cultures to evolve and improve constantly. In recent times this idea of a melting pot has been put into question by the proposed Travel ban and non-renews of DACA ( Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) under the current administration but I believe the majority of people see the merit of immigration and support it.
Aaryaman: What are some of the concerns Americans have with regard to immigration?
Dr. Kraut: Well, there are environmental concerns because people believe that the US will become overpopulated as a result of immigration which is alarmist and sensationalist because figures show that birth rates among migrants are characteristically lower than the US average and are balanced out by the GDP per capita added by these migrants. Another concern is the cultural impact, for example, will Hispanic, Asian or African immigrants be able to assimilate into society, learn English and be productive members of their communities? My answer is absolutely.
Aaryaman: Thank you so much for your insightful words, Dr. Kraut.