President Trump’s Attacks on Immigrants Impoverish Science and Weaken America

January 25, 2017 | 5:57 pm
takomabibelot/CC0 1.0, Flickr
Michael Halpern
Former Contributor

The severe and racist changes to immigration imposed on the United States by President Trump should be denounced and resisted by all who care about science and democracy.

Science thrives on diversity. Immigration is the foundation of America’s unparalleled scientific leadership. It also enriches our lives across the board, from culture and the arts to entrepreneurship to reducing the federal deficit.

All six of the American science Nobel Prize winners in 2016 are immigrants. The free flow of individuals and information is fundamental to both economic growth and our ability to respond to urgent public health and environmental challenges.

Further, research demonstrates that diverse groups are more innovative and creative than uniform groups. Being around people who are different from us stretches our minds and makes us work harder. I work with an increasingly diverse group of colleagues at UCS. Their perspectives make me a more effective advocate and a better person.

Data also show that refugees are less likely to be terrorists than natural-born citizens. Quoting my own post from 2015:

The United States became a great country because it embraced people from all over the world. We are a land of immigrants. Many of our nation’s greatest scientists were foreign-born. Before they came to our country, they were students, doctors, and pharmacists. With them came children and supportive spouses. They built their lives here, contributed their talents, settled into communities, and grew our nation…

It’s tragic and embarrassing to see so many American leaders heading in the opposite direction, with many governors, members of Congress, and presidential candidates scoring political points by declaring that Syrian refugees are not welcome in their states, or that Christians should be accepted but Muslims turned away. We don’t have to sacrifice security for doing our global duty.

The consequences are also personal. Dr. Kurt Gottfried, one of my heroes, is a founding member of UCS and former chair of our Board. He is not only an accomplished Cornell physicist, but is also largely responsible for the work that UCS did to strengthen our democracy by calling out political interference in science during the Bush administration. His work helped lay the groundwork for the ongoing, widespread efforts to defend the role of science in our democracy.

He is also an immigrant, one who, as a child, fled Europe for Canada as the Nazi occupation grew.

This is not to suggest that some lives are more valuable or deserving of refuge than others. We should strive to protect all human beings whose lives are threatened in their homelands: rich, poor, scientists, laborers, Muslims, Christians, and non-believers alike.

Denying entry to anyone fleeing persecution–including people like Kurt–is not who we are. We are better than this.

President Trump is targeting “sanctuary cities.” Being a sanctuary city is a choice local communities have the right to make, and scores of American communities have chosen to do so. Yet as is too often the case, the conservative principle of allowing local governments to determine their own destinies appears not to apply when their choices are deemed objectionable.

Yet just as many municipalities are moving forward on climate change regardless of what happens with the federal government, dozens of cities have already signaled their intent to resist the president’s actions on immigration. “We will defend everybody—every man, woman and child—who has come here for a better life and has contributed to the well-being of our state,” said California Governor Jerry Brown in his state of the state address (aquí en Español). 

Many scientists, too, are planning their own resistance to attacks on science and scientists. They are organizing marches, preparing to run for office, and joining watchdog teams to monitor and respond to activity. If you’re a scientist and you haven’t signed our letter outlining expectations for the Trump administration, including the promotion of diversity, do so here.