Skip to main content

If everyone in the U.S. went back to where they came from

Irene Bloemraad, professor of sociology | July 17, 2019

Melania Trump and I would both have to leave the United States. We weren’t born here.

In fact, if everyone who is not born in the U.S. left tomorrow, 1 in 7 people living in the country would disappear. That would certainly make your commute easier. But a lot of other things would get much, much harder.

If everyone went back to where they came from, a heckuva lot of UC Berkeley students, faculty and staff would be gone, as well as Sather Gate, the Campanile and half of Sproul Plaza's London Plane trees.

If everyone went back to where they came from, a heckuva lot of UC Berkeley students, faculty and staff would be gone. Moreover, the campus’s iconic Sather Gate and Campanile would never have been built.

You see, immigrants tend to be of working age, and they are more likely to be in the labor force than people born in the United States. So if all immigrants went back to where they came from, the U.S. workforce would lose 28 million workers or fully 17.4% of the entire labor force.

Many jobs would not be done and many businesses would be scrambling. If you had an accident driving on one of those less congested freeways, chance are that there would not be enough doctors or nurses to take care of you. More than a quarter of all physicians and surgeons in the United States are immigrants.

The impact on California would be greater than The Big One. Former Governor Schwarzenegger would have to return to Austria. He would be joined by about 10.5 million other Californians who would leave for other countries; about 28% of the state’s population would disappear. That exodus would decimate the economy of the state, from the high tech sector to agriculture, from restaurants to construction.

The state, counties and cities would lose billions of dollars in income tax, sales tax and property taxes. If immigrant Californians left with their children, half of the state’s student population, from kindergarten to grade 12, would disappear before classes resume in September. This means that about half of all teachers would have to be laid off, schools would close, and those families still in California would have to drive or bus their kids to schools further from their homes.

At UC Berkeley, two-thirds of our students are first or second generation children of immigrants. In my department, at least 13 of 30 faculty members were born in another country. The university would lose over a dozen stellar teachers and world-renowned researchers in just one unit.

Now multiply that across campus, from computer engineering to law, from the business school to cellular and molecular biology. UC Berkeley’s reputation as a global research university – the best public university in the world, many claim – would quickly diminish without foreign-born students, staff and faculty.

An interesting thought experiment is to consider the immigrants who helped build the university and think what would have happened if they had never lived in the U.S. The list includes Peder Sather, whose wealth helped build Sather Gate and the Campanile, and former Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien, an acclaimed mechanical engineer. A list of essential immigrants would also have to include staff working as custodians, groundskeepers and accountants, the people who keep the university going.

But beyond the impact on the university, on the state or on the national economy, rejecting people out of hand because of where they were born is fundamentally un-American. Everyone in the country, born here or not, should denounce such rhetoric.

Comments to “If everyone in the U.S. went back to where they came from

  1. It was a real pleasure to have read this article, from Mexico, many times we wonder how it is that all immigrants are going through this federal government, this president is definitely a step backward for the progress of integration with the society of immigrants.
    Some others, like me prefer to continue looking for opportunities from our country, hoping that one day the workforce will be valued and all the positive things that thousands of immigrants who have positive and productive purposes to your country contribute to society in general.

  2. As an immigrant, I would want to understand why is it so un-American to want people to be considered as human being? I feel like some dogs and cats are considered more human than me. People of all races and origins are suffering from that. I can understand the danger and frustration of being a pure socialist country. But is pure capitalism the way to go? Shouldn’t it not be a core value of the States to be knowledgeable on Civics (school), not to worry about a simple cold (health) or not having to work 3 jobs to secure enough money for the most basic of housing (security and stressless life)? What are then the core value of the Republic?

    As a scientist, I am an advocate for change through experiments and learning from others. We were not the first to experiment, we surely won’t be the last. Why don’t we try to learn from others, keeping and rejecting what we think are good and bad as a way of continuous improvement of the society?

  3. I remember once sitting at a Regent’s meeting listening to a xenophobic rant against international students by one of the Regents. I looked around the table and realized that 5 out of 10 of the Chancellors were immigrants who first came to the United States as students.
    Thank you, Irene, for your compelling blog.

  4. Obviously, this article is a thought experiment to demonstrate the importance of immigrants in our society. I’m sure we can agree that nobody in our leadership wants to kick out all people. It looks like this article is written in response to President Trump’s latest antagonistic statements towards several members of Congress. On July 14, Donald Trump publicly criticized them for introducing policies that would, in his view, undermine American democracy. In doing so, he made several uncalled for statements, but none of them are explicitly racist. He never attacks them for their race, merely for introducing unamerican policy in Congress. His political opponents quickly took the bait on his comments, however, and they’re giving him attention for something he doesn’t need attention for.

    • Wake up, and look at Trumps comments. He attacked them because of color, and ethnicity. All political leaders should be questioned and all doctrine reviewed w a critical eye. These 4 Congresswomen are doing just that. Bravo to them! They will make America stronger and more democratic!

    • And you are attempting to hide the true intent of Trump’s remarks, just like he does. It’s a campaign ploy designed to get racist votes, and at the same time, get non-racist votes from those who are fooled into thinking his intent is not racist. His contrived method is to divide the people and win by the smallest margin. He may very well be a non-racist, but he is using racism itself as a ploy to get votes. He doesn’t care if it results in killings or church fires. He doesn’t care if you die due to racism or lack of medical insurance. He wants votes and he will pander to every vote possible….

  5. BTW, being born in the US does not guarantee citizenship.

    “The 14th Amendment doesn’t say that all persons born in the U.S. are citizens. It says that ‘[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof’ are citizens. That second, critical, conditional phrase is conveniently ignored or misinterpreted by advocates of “birthright” citizenship.

    Critics erroneously believe that anyone present in the United States has “subjected” himself “to the jurisdiction” of the United States, which would extend citizenship to the children of tourists, diplomats, and illegal aliens alike.”

    • SCOTUS seems to have settled this in “United States vs Wong Kim Ark 169 U.S. 649 (1898)”

    • Not only has SCOTUS resolved this matter more than a century age, but so did common sense.
      If you are on a nation’s soil, you are subject to its jurisdiction (…only diplomats get an exception, by treaty.)
      Otherwise tourists could commit any crime and then stroll off.

  6. Federal immigration law determines whether a person is an alien (which is the term used by the Internal Revenue Service), the rights, duties, and obligations associated with being an alien in the United States, and how aliens gain residence or citizenship within the United States. It also provides the means by which certain aliens can become legally naturalized citizens with full rights of citizenship. Immigration law serves as a gatekeeper for the nation’s border, determining who may enter, how long they may stay, and when they must leave.

  7. If immigrants left the country with their children, President Obama would have gone “back” to Kenya with his immigrant father. Wait, Trump himself would have gone “back” to Scotland with his immigrant mother. Or, he would have suffer the fate of separated families that he so eagerly inflicts on others. It’s worth mentioning that the most xenophobic president in recent memory is a son of an immigrant on his mother’s side and a grandson on his father’s. It’s cliche, but at the heart of racism and xenophobia is (self-) ignorance. Perhaps in an alternate universe, we would be celebrating the fact that past two presidents have been children of immigrants and affirm our national motto—E Plubus Unum, Out of Many, One.

  8. Yet this wisdom of the value of immigrants, immigration, and innovation is only rising to national awareness when Trump is exposing the hidden biases. Why was this reality not celebrated earlier?
    The country has the opportunity to clean out ignorance, biases, and fears about differences and replace them with bridges built of humor, education, and progress.

  9. If you were intellectually honest, which you should be on a Berkeley platform, you’d be asking what would happen if everyone would go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.

    Perhaps we would see improvements in those countries and fewer refugees.

    • I agree what if we fixed our country first go back before it got overcrowded before people ran from a bad neighborhood instead of helping make it better. If we worked on our own homeless population before finding outsiders to fill in from the missing work. We have the people here we just don’t take care of each other anymore. Why is a starving African child of more value than to the children starving here? Just my thoughts.

    • Who turned those countries into “crime infested” countries in the first place? Iraq, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Syria, Mexico… on and on, the U.S.’s direct involvement (via invasions or proxy wars) has created civil wars, established puppet governments that are unaccountable, and surprise surprise, created migration. It’s in the history books.

  10. Amazing. Of all the reasons to take offence it’s “but the economyyyy,” because this is all totally okay to say if it actually improved GDP!!!! The strong moral backbone we’ve come to expect from petty bourgeois academics.

    And we can be sure that a sociology professor in fact knows that this is the most American sentiment possible — USA has committed, directly and indirectly, genocide for its entire history. Oh, but that’s different than what we say America is about! Don’t let reality get in the way of your Theory of America!!!

    This is the sort of blog post I’d expect from a white libertarian high schooler, not someone who is supposed to be teaching them a few years later.

  11. If only the people that hated this country and said vile and insulting things about the country and it’s citizens, would leave, go back to the land of their heritage, and fix that
    Then return here and tell us how they did it, it would be a wonderful thing!

    All kinds of celebrities always threaten to leave , but not one ever has.

    We are not a vile and hate filled country. No other country has done more for humanity.

    Pity Nancy Pelosi she must attempt these idiots to act like normal beings!

    The President is our#1 cheerleader. Thank God someone is finally calling out these

    • It’s truly sad that many believe that Trump is America’s cheerleader when he has inflicted more damage to our country’s reputation and democracy than any other president. So using your logic, if we have anything negative to say about a president, his administration, and the path our country is heading… we should leave and go where? Apparently when the going gets tough, we should all give up and leave instead of fighting for change and what we believe in. It’s hypocritical and ridiculous. Republicans criticized Obama during his presidency and did he ever tell them to “leave”?

      It’s amazing how many people have this glorified image of the United States when our history has always grappled with race and discrimination. Does the Civil Rights Movement ring a bell to anyone?

      You say that we are not a vile and hate-filled country but Trump’s rhetoric has exposed extreme sides in both ends of the political spectrum. Enough is enough.

Comments are closed.