My stepson, Eric Bord, is an immigration lawyer. The metamorphosis of his career alone should have given me a clue. When he started his solo practice about 15 years ago, his clientele consisted largely of the type of immigrants we now see daily – hard-working, mostly undereducated Hispanics who make their livings in such low level jobs, such as landscaping, restaurant work, and domestic service.
Eric helped many of them to get green cards, which allowed them to remain in the United States, and was the first step in obtaining citizenship. His practice has changed significantly. Eric is now a partner is a very large firm, where his clients are for the most part big corporations, which are increasingly seeking to bring educated and skilled workers from abroad to this country.
You might find it puzzling that in these times when joblessness is a major problem, American employers are unable to find enough people skilled in high-tech science and engineering. They have to look abroad.
We should have seen it coming. American students have been slipping in math and science, while those in Asia, India and Europe have been climbing. Have you attended any graduations lately? I have. It’s apparent there too, in the grads obtaining academic honor. A large proportion are either immigrants or the children of immigrants. And now, a Brooking Institution report reveals that, based on Census figures – more high-skilled, educated immigrants are coming to the United States than lower skilled ones. Thirty percent have at least bachelor’s degrees, twenty-eight percent are high school graduates. This gradual change has come to our attention only recently.
I’ll admit that my thinking about immigrants was based on the stories I heard in my childhood, about the throngs of poor, uneducated who flocked to our shores in the 19th and 20th centuries.
There were impressions based on my visits to Ellis Island, stories told by family members, and by the increasing immigrant presence among us – the foreign accents that we hear, the bi-lingual signs in supermarkets, and the controversy about immigration in the media and in politics.
For generations, job growth in the United States increased for Americans generally. Many immigrants found employment in factories, mines, and on farms. Now, and in the forseeable future, jobs – especially high-paying jobs – high-paying jobs will require training in those fields where American schools have lagged.
The importance of this report can’t be overemphasized. We’re wrestling with lingering problems of employment, immigration and education. The findings of the Brookings Institution report should serve to awaken us to the important changes that must be made in our thinking and education.