If you’re reading this and not already in Ohio, I have a message for you: You should move here. It’s a great place to work and raise a family. We want you to come to Ohio.
I’m not just talking about people in Indiana or Michigan, but everyone everywhere, worldwide. In the face of so much negativity we hear these days toward people who move to new places to pursue better lives — immigrants — it will strike some as contrarian to reach out to them instead of demonizing them. But Ohio’s never done things like everyone else. We have a history of seeking to stay a step ahead and, for us, immigration has always been part of achieving “the next thing.”
Ohio was America’s first frontier, and we identify with and celebrate the diverse waves of immigrants who settled here. Among them Germans in Cincinnati and central Ohio, Eastern Europeans, Latinos and Irish in northeast Ohio, Italians in eastern Ohio, and people from the Middle East in northwest Ohio.
Today, we see new waves of immigrants finding a home here, feeding into the same cities enriched by the first generation. People from East Africa, the Himalayas, Latin America and other places continue to become proud Buckeyes and weave their stories into the broader, historic Ohio narrative — a history of how hard work, ingenuity and creativity are hallmarks of our success, both past and future.
As a grandchild of Croatian immigrants, I grew up with a grandmother who didn’t speak English. Many in my Pennsylvania steel town had similar stories. The varied nature of our backgrounds gave our community strength and vibrancy. It was part and parcel of that classic immigrant drive to get ahead that helped make Pittsburgh’s steel industry an engine of American prosperity.
But today, our memory of America’s immigrant past no longer enjoys this same celebrated status. The negative tone on some sides of the immigration debate should be a flashing red light to those of us who understand immigration’s benefits. Not only does that negativity suggest a misunderstanding of our country’s past and a disconnect with the immovable reality of our connections to the rest of the world, it risks becoming a barrier to future economic growth. At its worst, it hints at a scapegoatism that blocks us from understanding — and addressing — the real causes of challenges that face certain regions or industries.
The conversation about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — the program for children who arrived with undocumented parents — is one such problematic signal, and Congress must act quickly to put this program into law. Swift, successful action could reassure policymakers that progress on other immigration challenges is possible also. A regulated guest-worker program would be an important next step because it would meet America’s need for more workers while protecting all workers from unfair labor practices. From there we should move ahead to deal with the 11 million or more undocumented immigrants who, let’s face it, are not going anywhere. I don’t support a pathway to citizenship in these cases, but legal permanent residence — after careful background checks and other measures — serves everyone’s interests.
We forget America’s immigrant heritage at our peril, because it means we forget what immigration did, does and will do for America — and Ohio. If the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world were to start closing itself off to new people and the new ideas and energy they can bring, it would deny us access to the full range of possible solutions to tough problems. When did we lose the collective national confidence to welcome good ideas wherever we find them? When we send anti-immigration signals, those seeking a new, better life will only choose other destinations. Canada, Europe, the massive metropolises of Latin America and other places — they all stand to benefit at our expense.
When we affirm our immigrant heritage going forward, we prepare ourselves for the ongoing success that comes from the power and innovations that can flow from new ideas and new people. We thrive on both in Ohio. Our state was built by immigrants, and because we want to continue building we’ll need new people from everywhere, and that includes from outside the United States. We welcome new neighbors who work hard, contribute to their communities, raise their families and join in the great story.
Whether you’re from Indiana or India, New England or Old England, we want you in Ohio.
John Kasich is the Republican governor of Ohio.
Note: Column previously published.