While the so-called line for aspiring immigrants stretches 4.4 million people long and the wait, depending on visa type and country of origin, can take decades, there seems to be a legal way around waiting one’s turn. The welcome etched on the Statue of Liberty has steadily undergone a rewrite. Why should the U.S. open its arms to the tired, poor huddled masses when our country can provide refuge to money, power and the most marketable skills?
We forget all those immigrants who risked everything and had nothing, but whose contributions have shaped our nation -- how they got here being far less important than what they did once they arrived. And there is no way of knowing which prospective immigrants hold the most potential for helping the nation realize its own potential.
Democracy is supposed to value every vote, every human being as equal, regardless of status, occupation, wealth, color, creed…Democracy rewarding merit – success through hard work, not lineage – is supposedly the key to the American Dream. Why isn’t Dream attached to other democratic countries? Because, it’s here that the possibilities of integration and achievement are greatest. It’s here that the myth is reinforced and renewed every day by both the citizen and the immigrant.
Just like native-born U.S. citizens, immigrants aren’t all nuclear physicists, Pulitzer Prize winners or sports champions. What we may have in an overabundance compared to the native-born is an awareness of how much we’re willing to sacrifice to be here, how hard we’re committed to work to prove ourselves and how much we feel we’ve earned our citizenship at some point along the way.
Choosing a new country in which to make our lives is not an easy decision, even if we’re facing stifling violence, oppression and poverty. We choose the United States because we envision a place to start over, where individual freedom allows even the homeless, tempest-tost to reach up for a piece of the Dream. We hold fast to this belief despite being called illegal aliens and stereotyped as hardened criminals, mostly because we don’t have the proper papers.
During the nation’s first century, the U.S. opened its doors to any able-bodied immigrant. Now there are many restrictions, high costs and interminable waits, except for the privileged few. And yes, the nation may need to give priority to those who can best grease the wheels of prosperity. But what about the 11 million already here who fill our labor shortages, run our businesses, attend our colleges and sustain our families and communities?
We are workers, entrepreneurs, taxpayers and consumers and who knows what we will achieve in our lifetimes? Already, we pay taxes: $10.6 billion yearly in state and local taxes alone. Over the last 10 years, we’ve added $100 billion to Social Security without hope of collecting any funds. Just counting Hispanic-owned businesses, we contribute $486 billion to the American economy each year.
So when will we become an immigration priority? What about our value to the prosperity of the nation? We already generate the dollars but our power lags, constantly thwarted by political ideology that demonizes our character, denies our contribution and delays our vote.
In our democracy, the undocumented migrant farmer and the visa-carrying wiz programmer should be seen as equals with the same rights, the same expectations of respect and the same opportunity to work toward citizenship.