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Needed: More Immigrants

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Despite our president's mixed signals when it comes to the overheated issue of immigration, the plain fact cannot be denied: Immigrants are a net asset to this country's economy. They are also the foundation of our national character.

For this is a nation made up of immigrants and their descendants, and dedicated to the proposition that we are all one people. Not a hyphenated admixture of nationalities from Scots-Irish to Italian-Americans. We always have been just plain Americans and, Lord willing, always will be, dedicated to the idea of E Pluribus Unum -- from out of many, one.

There will always be those who engage in scare talk about furriners taking our jobs. They may spread such phobias for their own fun and profit, hoping to gain some political advantage or just out of general meanness. Now that they're safely aboard the good ship U.S.S. America, these inside agitators are ready to sail on, abandoning the next generation of Americans to nativist fantasies.

But their self-serving myths are belied by every day's news reports. Note the headline on Monday's front-page story in the Wall Street Journal: "Iowa's Labor Plight: Too Many Jobs/Across the Midwest, the 'skills gap' is less of a problem than the shortage of workers."

Note the lede on this story out of Mason City, Iowa: "Manufacturers in northern Iowa are begging Terry Schumaker for freshly trained workers for their factories. The problem is he doesn't have enough students to train."

"It's not like we have the people beating down our door to apply," says Mr. Schumaker, a dean at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City. And the same problem -- if it can be called a problem instead of a blessing -- can be found all across the Midwest, which enjoys lower unemployment and more job openings than the rest of the country. It's the prospective employers, especially out in the rural parts of the state, who are lining up for employees, rather than job-seekers looking for work.

Iowa has all kinds of job-retraining programs. What it doesn't have in these boom times are people to enroll in them. So much for the idea that this country is full of folks who lack the education or skills to become productive members of the community. That turns out to be a rural myth all across the Midwest.

So why are the states just a hop, skip and an airplane flight from Arkansas doing so well while this, the Diamond State, is reduced to digging in the soil, hoping to come up with the occasional rock-hard gem? The answer to that question, like many another, may be in differences in the educational system -- its goal and methods in Arkansas as opposed to the way so many of our neighbors approach the same subject.

In too much of Arkansas, schooling is considered a formality, and liberal education is considered a luxury. This state is much too inclined to sit back and hope opportunity will come knocking -- perhaps in the form of a Chinese-owned manufacturing concern we can subsidize with taxpayer dollars -- instead of recognizing that the basis of growth -- not just economic but personal -- is a sound liberal education, which begins early and lasts late.

This is not to say that Arkansas hasn't made any progress. This state has made genuine advances on many fronts. But those parts where education hasn't been lovingly tended will remain prey to ignorance and demagoguery. For progress isn't automatic, and enterprising types remain attracted to what is still the Land of Opportunity -- no matter how much we try to discourage them. For they will keep coming to this state and this country -- and should be welcomed with open arms. For that is what Arkansas, and all America, should be about.

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