Why celebrate citizenship in Beaufort?

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“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teaming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

As the famous Statue of Liberty quote by Emma Lazarus suggests, the United States has long offered hope and opportunity to people from other nations.  Yet, the latest Census data shows that, in the last decade, without legal immigrants, the U.S. population would have declined.

Even with immigration, half the counties in our country had declining population.  

Want to see what declining communities look like?  

You do not need to go far. We moved here 20 years ago from Aiken and have driven the backroads to and from there many times.  

In the last 20 years, from Yemassee to New Ellington, there may have been 10 new buildings constructed. It’s impossible not to notice abandoned plants and boarded-up downtown stores. Even schools have closed. 

Occasionally, we read stories of dying towns willing to sell themselves to anyone who will come. Often, immigrants move there finding opportunity and providing new energy where others have left.  

As the late Nobel-Prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman described in his famous book, Free to Choose, his parents came to New York with just suitcases and a desire for freedom. They initially lived in tenement housing, worked demanding, low-pay jobs but built lives for themselves and their family.  They were part of the American Dream. 

Beaufort is fortunate to continue to grow, attracting people from other parts of our country and the world who choose to live here. It was not always that way.

From 1900 to 1940, Beaufort’s population declined by more than 40 percent.

In the 1960s a so-called poverty commission documented third-world-like living conditions and wide spread malnourishment in children. Yes, here in Beaufort County.

Why Celebrate Citizenship in Beaufort?  

Consider what our community would be like without their contributions. Beaufort’s naturalized Americans bring energy, investment, ideas, and skills. They, quietly, enrich our community adding new art, music, food, and their humanity.  

You will find them working in every sector of our economy and engaged in our civic community.   With this energy and diversity, Beaufort’s new Americans make us a better community. 

If, like us, you are part of the Baby Boomer generation, you have a vested interest in adding new members to our community. Social Security is an “intergenerational income transfer program.” 

From a purely personal benefit perspective, we need new workers so we can continue to receive our benefits. 

Recent Wall Street Journal articles describe a term, the dependency ratio – the ratio of workers to retirees. This ratio, which not long ago was about seven to one, is now only three to one in Europe and only slightly higher in the United States. 

Another article reported a labor problem in Maine where retirees have stayed in their homes but young people have left, creating a shortage of home care workers. Working-age family members face a choice of paying up to $50 an hour for home care assistance or cutting back on their work activities to care for aging parents.  

Census data estimates there are slightly more than 1,800 naturalized Americans in our county.  Consider how many times in a given week you interact with someone who was not born in the United States but has made Beaufort their home?

The reality is almost everyone living here is descended from immigrants.  Look at the six flags flying at the Santa Elena Museum. The earliest Beaufort immigrants were Spanish, English, Scottish, French and Africans. Some came from European aristocracy, others adventurers, indentured servants, slaves, and refugees. 

While the creation of our Republic did not provide citizenship to all, eventually, with amendments to our Constitution, our nation has tried to include all of our “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  

Most Beaufortonians inherited citizenship as a birth right, but our naturalized citizens invested in American citizenship, first by acquiring the proper legal documentation, then traveling here, learning English, and finally by applying for, paying, and passing the citizenship exam and finally, swearing their oath of allegiance to our nation. 

Read the vignettes of some of Beaufort’s naturalized citizens in the most recent edition of Lowcountry Weekly. They have amazing stories, often told with tears as they describe their deeply personal journeys.

Without exception, every naturalized Beaufortonian we interviewed was passionate and proud to be an American.

Davis Folsom, PhD, is a University of South Carolina Distinguished Professor of Economics, having taught more than 30 years combined at USC Beaufort and USC Aiken. He has published a wide variety of scholarly and not-so-scholarly books on topics ranging from business jargon to wine cruising. He is also a tour guide with Beaufort Tours and a volunteer citizenship tutor.

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