Politicians have been screaming for years about the danger of immigrants. They are right - the danger of immigrants is that they don't come and we experience a devastating brain drain.
Politicians identified the right problem, immigration, with precisely the wrong solution because they refuse to stare the country's real problems in the face and offer genuine solutions in the place of fear-mongering.
From the perspective of a technologist, immigrants are our nation's saving grace because our education system has been awful at the primary and secondary levels for a generation and no one has stepped up offering real solutions to fix it. No Child Left Behind and Common Core testing tried to apply standards to build from but standards are not worth anything if you are not building from a real base of learning.
If you strip off the veneer of what politicians say, the reality is that we have been plugging our sagging educational hole with immigrants for a generation, and getting away with that from an economic growth perspective because the United States was seen as the shining beacon for the best talent. That has changed; first with the rise of the BRIC (ultimately minus the BR) nations offering a real, more local alternative for talent starting in the mid-2000s, and now more recently with our nasty turn inward and attacks on immigration and the foreign born among us.
I recently read a New York Times opinion piece that encapsulated this point well: for two generations, India sent its first, second, and third tier talent to the United States. Now, especially after the recent shootings, Indian mothers fear sending their children to the United States, which is as potentially economically devastating as it is shameful. It is also sheer idiocy: why would we destroy our longtime opportunity to pluck much of the best talent from a country of over one billion people?
Unfortunately, many Americans do not realize this hard truth because they have been fed a bowl of crock by their politicians for the better part of three decades. They have been told that immigrants, skilled and unskilled, take American jobs, and that they take jobs that talented Americans would otherwise fill. This is particularly untrue for the highly-skilled jobs that our own educational system is filling so spectacularly to churn out: doctors, scientists, and engineers.
The truth is, you can't do much that's interesting without a surplus of that kind of talent - trust me, I know, because I'm a humanities guy and every good idea I've ever been a part of had brilliant STEM minds to cover my shortcomings.
Equally true, is that our educational system is not turning out enough STEM talent and that which it does turn out disproportionately comes from the children of immigrants. Study upon study shows that US-born children of immigrants represents an out-of-proportion percentage of our current and future skilled workforce.
This is a particularly important point because it reminds us that skilled immigration is not the only important kind: unskilled immigrants bring a hungry attitude and push their children to succeed, resulting in a disproportionate number of skilled graduates. And a country that turns its back on either kind, and certainly both, and relies on an unwelcoming strain of hard nationalism, with a broken education system like ours, is primed for a devastating brain drain.
And a devastating brain drain creates a devastating drop of innovation and production, which results in loss of exports, which results in loss of jobs and purchasing power and hard currency. In short, the brain drain won't leave jobs open for Americans, it will just reduce the overall number of jobs and make Americans poorer.
Without skilled immigrants, and the children of unskilled immigrants, such a brain drain will end our half-a-century edge in science, technology innovation. Indeed, as my venture capitalist friends with deep ties to Asia and Europe have been telling me for some time, we are already a frog in boiling water for fifteen solid minutes.