Ben Daniel: Immigration could be the passport to success

FOLLOWING a recent visit to Scotland, San Jose minister Ben Daniel calls for an enlightened attitude towards immigrants

By the time you read this letter I will be home in California’s Silicon Valley, remembering with great affection the week I recently spent in your cities and glens, your castles and churches; at a Partick Thistle game I discovered the warm satisfaction of Bovril and meat pie, and at several of your pubs I enjoyed the warmth of Scottish hospitality. With you, dear Scotland, I am smitten.

During that week in your company my conversations tended toward sports and politics, which is to say we talked about the Old Firm and the New Scotland. About the former I’ll say that the red card for Cha Du-Ri was a little over the top; regarding the latter I’ll confess that the idea of Scottish independence excites me.

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I am, after all, an American. I grew up believing that gaining independence from England is an excellent thing. But more than that, I suspect that Scotland can, by becoming independent, show the rest of us that it’s possible to gain freedom peacefully, to establish a modern, inclusive democracy, and develop a national economy that is equitable and just.

Of particular interest to me is Scotland’s opportunity to develop an immigration policy that rejects racism and xenophobia and understands the easily demonstrable fact that immigration makes communities vibrant and economies robust.

Of course, immigration is a touchy subject. In my own country, otherwise rational and compassionate individuals can turn nasty with racist vitriol at the mere mention of providing immigration-status amnesty to Mexican nationals with US-born children.

It is common for nations to enact immigration policies that reflect a fear of immigrants, but such laws are not unavoidable. Given the proper mixture of education, imagination, and courage, governments can enact just and sensible immigration policies that serve the common good by harnessing the economic and cultural benefits immigrants bring, while respecting their basic value and dignity as children of God.

If the economic and cultural benefits of immigration aren’t enough to inspire you, upon gaining independence, to write the world’s best and most sensible immigration policies, then let me present an appeal to our common history.

I am, in part, descended from Scottish emigrants. When my great-grandmother’s great-great grandfather, Alan Neil, left Scotland, it was because he had little choice but to go. I don’t know the exact circumstances of his departure, but I know that he was born in Glasgow in 1765 to a family who had left the Isle of Gigha during the clearances. Life in eighteenth-century Scotland was hard for young men like Alan Neil, especially if they were country folk living in the city, so he did what countless others like him did: he set off to a foreign land looking for opportunity.

Alan Neil arrived in the newly independent United States at the age of 20. Before long he was a wealthy man, and his descendants have been people of consequence: politicians and philanthropists, prominent lawyers, physicians, artists, musicians, and writers, scientists and captains of industry. In short, Alan Neil, the immigrant, made the United States a better place because America welcomed him, giving him a home and giving him hope. Similar immigrant success stories played out in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and pretty much anywhere else Scots like Alan Neil were welcomed.

Now, with your independence referendum just two years away, you have the opportunity to return the favour, to be for lat ter-day immigrants what America was for Alan Neil: a land of refuge, opportunity, and hope. In return, immigrants can be for you what people like Alan Neil were for America: hard-working, ambitious, innovative citizens whose dedication to their new home will make Scotland a stronger nation.

The dawning of your independence is an opportunity to inspire the world. Who better than a land of writers, reformers, philosophers, inventors, and the kindest population I’ve met—who better than an independent Scotland to prove to the world that a nation can and should be welcoming, just, culturally vibrant, economically robust and, above all, free?