Over the course of history, the United States has attracted the most brilliant and talented minds from across the globe, offering them the prospect of a better life and a chance to start over. The American Dream, a belief that through hard work and determination, any immigrant can earn a better life for his family and for posterity, has long been a part of American culture and tradition. A few weeks ago I, decided to become a naturalized citizen. As I filled out the application to begin the process, I felt fortunate to have been offered the extraordinary opportunity.
However, in the weeks that have passed since I completed my application, Arizona has implemented a controversial immigration law, a proposal to construct a mosque near Ground Zero faced fierce criticism, a Georgia representative submitted a bill to end birthright citizenship and a lunatic tried to hold a Quran burning. The U.S. is by far the most accepting nation of immigrants in the world, but I can’t help but wonder what the recent rise in nativism and xenophobia mean for America’s future in the 21st century.
Immigration is a complex issue and has had a tumultuous past in American history. Without a doubt, the immigration system today is broken and in desperate need of repair. The current system does little to identify and recruit highly skilled labor, allows multinational companies to abuse the process of obtaining visas for their employees and does little to retain talented immigrants educated in the U.S. The issue of illegal immigration compounds the problem several fold.
The problems with legal immigration in the U.S. are arguably the most urgent to solve. They are also easily solvable. The process by which employment visas are distributed needs to be more flexible and account for the economic realities of our nation. The current yearly cap for employment visas is set around 700,000 per year, a figure that hasn’t changed since 1990. The cap for skilled workers in the U.S. should be based on research and data about labor market trends and shortages that are prevalent in the U.S. economy.
Another prevalent issue regarding immigration includes the challenge of retaining immigrants who earn an education in the U.S., particularly those who earn advanced degrees. These students generally represent the best that their country has to offer, and they contribute significantly to American society. According to the Wall Street Journal, over 50 percent of Silicon Valley start-ups in the past decade were created by immigrants. Increasingly, however, students earning advanced degrees in the U.S. are choosing to return to their home countries, primarily because of the longevity and uncertainty of the immigration process. These individuals should be put on a fast track to gaining permanent residency.
Illegal immigration is a complex, multi-faceted problem that must be dealt with carefully. There are currently approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., who make up a vital part of the American economy by fulfilling roles that are either undesired or unwanted by other segments of the population.
The idea to round up and deport every illegal immigrant is impractical. The U.S. cannot afford the cost of carrying out such a procedure, especially in such economic times. Furthermore, it would rip apart immigrant families who have staked their livelihoods and their children’s future in the U.S. Illegal immigrants must be provided a path to legalization, whereby they recognize the crime of having entered the U.S. illegally, pay back taxes and agree to enter the naturalization process, same as any legal immigrant.
The issue of protecting our borders and enforcing the law must also be tackled. The Border Patrol is seriously understaffed and lacks the resources to prevent illegal crossings. An increased presence along key areas on the border is necessary to deter crossings. In addition, employers who offer jobs to illegal immigrants must be punished.
It is my hope that the recent surge in nativism and xenophobia are nothing more than results of election year tactics employed by politicians to get re-elected. One thing is certain, however—immigration must continue to play an important role in America’s progress. Immigration reform is necessary if the U.S. hopes to remain a leader in the 21st century. In the meantime, I’ll be waiting anxiously for a call from USCIS about the status of my application.