America Needs Talent


Last Friday, I participated in a discussion with former Defense Secretary and US Senator Chuck Hagel, Washington Post senior national security correspondent Karen DeYoung, and Wall Street Journal executive Washington editor Gerald Seib on America’s Role in the World and US foreign policy.

I think the panel offered fascinating insights on the times we are in — but the most powerful moment for me came when I asked the full room of students how many were from abroad, how many were not Americans but were participating in The Washington Center‘s internship programs.  About twenty percent of the room raised hands. And among those who asked questions, the rich diversity of backgrounds of these very smart students was obvious.

But Hagel and the panel see the flow of talent from other nations into the U.S. as endangered today.

So too does Garry Kasparov in today’s Washington Post where he writes about New York State K-3 wunderkind chess champion Tanitoluwa Adewumi. In saluting this prodigy who is a Nigerian refugee now living in a family shelter, Gasparov makes a fundamental point that many Americans need to be reminded of.  He offers:

The United States is where the world’s talent comes to flourish. Since its inception, one of America’s greatest strengths has been its ability to attract and channel the energy of wave after wave of striving immigrants. It’s a machine that turns that vigor and diversity into economic growth. It may mean opening a dry-cleaners or a start-up that becomes Google. It could mean studying medicine, law or physics, or — as Tani says he would like to do — becoming the world’s youngest chess champion.

Immigration and the management of incoming talent into the country has become highly politicized.  Many anti-immigrant commentators speak about the criminal character of those fleeing persecution and harassment at home and opportunity in America — and are knocked back by fact checkers who show that those who have immigrated to the US are less likely to commit crimes than the general public.

But what of the positive frame on immigration? What is verifiable and known, mostly because it is part of the founding equation of America, is that smart, talented immigrants from abroad made America the leading and most innovative economy in the world.

Success stories and experiences from those students at The Washington Center as well as chess champ Tani Adewumi need to be prioritized in our discussion about how to continually build America’s stock of talented citizens.

— Steve Clemons


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