Colonists, who were first and foremost immigrants, began their journey to the United States motivated by the opportunity to start anew. This precedent has since held true. In 2017, immigrants made up a staggering 13.7 percent of the U.S. population.
However, this statistic doesn’t show the underlying complex and estranged relationship that non-Western immigrants have with the United States. When one doesn’t physically resemble the historically dominant population, they lose the power to shape the narratives of their own experiences.
At the moment, the immigration conversation is focused on Latin Americans, as President Donald Trump is desperate to fulfill his impossible campaign promise of building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. However, conversations about other immigration communities — such as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, my own community — are equally deserving of being addressed.
Over the course of American history, immigrants have repeatedly been demonized through the arguments that they cannot integrate into U.S. society and that they will take away jobs from U.S.-born residents. Once the second-class treatment they were subjected to is considered, however, these arguments seem more like excuses.
In the 19th century, there was an unprecedented demand for a transcontinental railroad to bring people over to the western coast of the United States. Two companies were leading the venture, and neither wanted to hire Chinese immigrants due to the prejudices that existed at the time.
These companies initially relied on European laborers, discounting the powerful sentiment that few wanted to partake in dangerous and intense work for little personal benefit. After railroad companies failed to hire enough workers, many of whom were of Irish descent, they turned to Chinese labor.
These Asian Americans filled the continuing need for cheap labor that was crucial to the manifestation of manifest destiny and economic development early in U.S. history. Yet they were perceived as undesirable, expendable and undeserving of humane treatment.
Without their contributions, this crucial development to U.S. progress may not have taken place.
Today, AAPIs are subject to the same cherrypicking that our ancestors faced. We are left on our own until our success is a novelty to be used by politicians looking to advance their causes.
But we are more than the model minority they make us out to be. In fact, we are a formidable force in the economy. Most immigrants provide labor and a tax source which furthers economic expansion. The median income of AAPI immigrant-led households in 2015 was $75,000, as compared to the median income of the average U.S. household of $55,300. A larger disposable incomes boost consumption, and by extension gross domestic product: disposable income on the goods and services available in the market.
While some highly-skilled AAPI immigrants did take advantage of the rising income equality in the U.S., many more of us compensate by providing a substantial tax base. In 2015, APPI immigrants paid $97.5 billion in federal taxes and $38.2 billion in state and local taxes, leaving them with $335.8 billion to strengthen the economy.
Because of their parents’ struggles, many AAPIs feel inclined to go into STEM fields, which are known for having consistently well-paying jobs. However, being motivated by financial insecurities feels like a waste of potential.
This cultural phenomenon has unintentionally caused AAPI individuals to fill critical gaps in the labor market. More than one in six working AAPI immigrants hold jobs in STEM, making them more than twice as likely as other college-educated workers to hold jobs as physicians or surgeons.
So next time, President Trump, when you link immigrants to a non-existent humanitarian crisis — think about how they are the direct cause for an unprecedented upturn in the U.S. economy.