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Thirty Years in America:

In addition to being the 65th anniversary of D-Day, today is the 30th anniversary of my arrival in the United States from Russia, at the age of five. Nothing else that has ever happened in my life had a greater positive impact on me than my parents' decision to leave the Soviet Union and come to this country. The gains in both standard of living and - even more so - personal freedom have been enormous.

Life in post-Soviet Russia is in many ways better than in the days of communism. But living standards for most people remain far lower than in the West, and the regime of ex-KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin rolled back some of the political freedoms that Russians had begun to enjoy in the 1990s.

The advantages of life in the US over life in Russia are perhaps too obvious to dwell on. Less often appreciated are the ways in which life for immigrants in America is much better than in most other affluent liberal democracies. Although the US is not free of racism and nativist xenophobia, on the whole immigrants are much better accepted by natives than in almost all of the many other countries I have seen. We take it for granted that a person born in Russia or China or India can become as much a "real American" as the descendants of the Founding Fathers. Yet such ready acceptance is far less common elsewhere. In trips abroad, I have seen Russian immigrant communities in several countries, including France, Germany, and Israel, and spoken extensively with relatives and other Russians living there. In each case, they are less assimilated, worse off economically, and have much more tense relations with native-born citizens than the Russians who have come to the US over the last several decades.

In addition to the greater acceptance of immigrants by natives, an important advantage of the US for recent immigrants is that of relatively free labor markets, which make it much easier to get jobs. In Western Europe and Israel, I saw many Russian Jewish immigrants who either depend on welfare or are seriously underemployed. Both are far less common among Russians in this country, except for the elderly. European and Israeli labor regulations make it far harder to fire workers; but that also makes employers more reluctant to take a chance on recent arrivals from abroad. Obviously, jobs are an essential prerequisite for moving up the economic ladder and a crucial pathway to acceptance and assimilation.

Life for immigrants in the United States isn't perfect, and I of course recognize that many have not been as lucky as I was. But we immigrants have reason to be grateful that it is so much better than anything we could have found anywhere else.

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