I am an immigrant from Liberia, one of the countries the president called a “shithole” last week. My wife and I arrived in the United States 17 years ago in search of a better life. Like most people around the world, we saw the U.S. as a beacon of hope and the land of opportunity. We believed in the American dream, and we knew that if we focused on our goals and worked hard, we could achieve our version of it.
A few years after our arrival in the U.S., my wife and I graduated from the University of Minnesota with our bachelor’s degrees in psychology and journalism, respectively. We continued our education at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, where she earned a master’s degree in psychology and I graduated with a master’s degree in health and human services administration. My wife went on to earn a doctorate in counseling psychology from St. Mary’s. She and her three classmates also made history by being the first class to graduate from the new doctor of counseling psychology program at St. Mary’s. But what was even more exciting was that three of the four graduates were immigrants: Two were from Liberia and the third was from India. My wife currently works as a licensed psychologist both at a clinic and at level-four schools in Minneapolis. Level-four schools are set up for students with significant emotional, behavior and mental health needs that affect their academic and social progress.
When I graduated with my master’s degree in health and human services administration, I volunteered for a year with Hennepin County in different capacities before returning to St. Mary’s to earn a graduate certificate in addiction studies. Upon obtaining my credential as a licensed alcohol and drug counselor (LADC), I worked at Hazelden Plymouth for two years helping youths and young adults struggling with substance dependency. Currently, I work with adults with brain injury, cognitive issues and substance dependency.
Not only have my wife and I achieved our American dreams, our son, who arrived in the U.S. when he was 6, graduated from Carleton College in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a neuroscience concentration. He is pursuing his master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology.
I chose to share our story because it epitomizes the African immigrant experience. A 2017 report from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) showed that sub-Saharan immigrants (where the president’s so-called “shithole” countries are located) have much higher educational attainment compared with the overall foreign- and native-born populations. The report noted that in 2015, 39 percent of sub-Saharan Africans (ages 25 and over) had a bachelor’s degree or higher education, compared with 29 percent of the total foreign-born population and 31 percent of the U.S.-born population.
Additionally, the report showed that in 2015, sub-Saharan Africans’ (ages 16 years and over) participation in the civilian labor force was at a higher rate (75 percent) than the overall foreign population (66 percent) and native-born population (62 percent).
The aforementioned report refutes the president’s assertion that African immigrants from so-called “shithole” countries do not contribute meaningfully to the development of the U.S. In addition to the contribution we make in terms of our diversity, we also contribute significantly in various aspects of the labor force and the overall well-being of society.
Edwin Swaray, of Champlin, is a licensed alcohol and drug counselor.