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Immigration in the United States: A broken system LAKSHANYAA GANESH AND OISHEE MISRA

Reflecting on our experiences with America’s legal immigration system

Etched on the steps of Lady Liberty are the following words:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

For centuries, America — the so-called land of immigrants — has held open arms to the huddled masses of the tired, the poor and those yearning for opportunity. Yet in an era of walls and cages, immigration has turned into a partisan renegade: a political conversation rife with hot takes.

We are first generation legal immigrants — a label that seems to characterize and dictate our lives more than we’d like it to — and the grave realities of America’s immigration policies hit a little too close to home.

From the squalid conditions at migrant detention centers to the inhumane parent-child separations of asylum seekers, the multitude of trials and tribulations that undocumented immigrants face are well-known to the rest of the country. What is less discussed, however, are the issues that plague legal immigrants.

We both moved to the United States during elementary school, yet as current high schoolers with college rapidly approaching, we still do not have permanent status in America, rendering our futures uncertain. For immigrants, permanent status refers to either a green card or legal citizenship, both of which are time-consuming and difficult to obtain.

In simplified terms, there is currently a discriminatory green card distribution system. According to US Code 1153, employment based green cards can only be granted to 7% of immigrants from every country, regardless of population. Although this sounds fair in theory, it is far from fair in practice. Instead, it is arbitrary and archaic. According to The Hill reporter David Bier, this quota favors small countries over large countries, because hypothetically, it is much easier for immigrants from countries like Nepal to receive green cards, compared to the four non-European nations who apply for the largest percentages of green cards: the Philippines, India, China and Mexico.

Graphic | Oishee Misra

According to Bier, those who applied for green cards in 2018 stand behind nearly five million people waiting in the applicant backlog. Wait times are impossibly long for these immigrants, with about 675,000 would-be legal immigrants predicted to pass away before even seeing a green card if they refused to give up and stayed in the line indefinitely. It will take decades and, in some cases, a half century or more to process everyone currently waiting.

As upperclassmen and aspiring journalism majors, the costs and consequences of our futures without a green card weigh especially heavy on us. Not only do we have to pay international fees for university (not just tuition, but application fees as well), but we also can’t legally work in college. We’re extremely lucky to be in a situation where our families can afford to pay these heightened fees, and we’re extremely privileged in terms of resources. Yet we can’t help but think about the struggles of those who share our experiences but don’t have these same privileges that we do living in the Silicon Valley.

Despite our resources and privileges, they aren’t our safety blankets. The nature of our dependent H4 visas dictate that when we turn 21, we run the risk of not being able to stay in the country because we no longer qualify to depend on our family’s H worker visa. The odds of us receiving a student visa, which operates under the assumption that we return to our “home country” after we finish school, are slim, and the thought of returning to a country we barely know is terrifying.

This isn’t intended to invalidate the very real struggles that Dreamers and undocumented immigrants face, or to say that we “have it worse” in any way. We just want to shed light on the problematic nature of those who swear by the legal immigration process without examining the consequences and effects of a system rife with issues itself. Living by the rules dictated by this problematic system has consequences that we both feel on a personal level.

Lakshanyaa

What are the costs of me having to possibly uproot everything I hold near to me at the end of my college career and have to start all over?

America is my home. It has been for as long as I can remember. I’ve been raised with American values and ideals such as the importance of freedom, hard work and equality ingrained in me. My birthday is the day after the fourth of July, a fact I’ve always secretly taken pride in, because I get to celebrate my birthday alongside my country’s. I also know English better than Telugu, my mother tongue and growing up, I never really felt all that different from my peers. Yes, I was an immigrant and technically wasn’t a citizen, but that didn’t make me any different from everyone else, right?

I really wish I was right.

The story of my family’s journey from India echoes many others: we immigrated to the U.S. in 2004, my father on an H1 visa and my mother and I on an H4. Full of hope, grit and dreams, my parents slowly climbed the rungs of the corporate ladder, solely to give me and my brother the opportunities they could only dream of attaining when they lived in India. My childhood was rife with fireworks and sticky fingers, Crayola boxes and spelling bees. I’ve grown up on both coasts, and even though I’ve considered different states my home, I’ve always considered the US my home.

I want to be a journalist to not only uncover the wrongdoings omnipresent in our society, but to also shed light on the progress that our country is making, and I can only do that through practice and experience. If I can’t get a job or even a paid internship in college, if I have to go through university without an ounce of paid experience, then what’s the point? How am I supposed to do what our Constitution dictates and exercise my right to the pursuit of liberty and happiness, when I can’t successfully do that here — the land of the free and the home of the brave?

I’ve begun to seriously apply and consider attending universities in Canada, as our neighbor up north is much more legal immigrant friendly than us. According to Forbes policy reporter Andy J. Semotiuk, Canada has recently implemented policies that involve post graduation work permits, as well as permanent residency opportunities, without quotas or restrictions based on country of birth. I’m considering leaving my family, my friends, everything I consider home, just to pursue the things my parents came here to provide me with. Ironic, right?

Because in a country with some of the highest tuition rates, what are the costs of not being able to work while in university, not being able to take out loans? What are the costs of not being able to gain experience in a field that demands experience to perfect? What are the costs of me having to possibly uproot everything I hold near to me at the end of my college career and have to start all over in a country I have no experience with whatsoever, a country whose language I can barely speak? As dramatic as it sounds, what are the costs of staying in a country that doesn’t want me as badly as I want it?

Oishee

I’ve started to detest being caught in this web of passion, parents, visa, immigration, Trump, policies, bills — the list could go on.

I loved my childhood in India. I still remember curling up in my room, tracing the letters of a book as I learnt to read. I still remember yearly Christmas break trips to my hometown, where I’d spend practically every moment with my cousin; our families joked about us being connected at the hip. I still remember the incessant rain that would pour down for approximately six out of the twelve months in the year.

The part I remember the most, though? Moving.

The memory of the frequent tears and the anger I felt at my parents for uprooting my life and moving me halfway across the world to America lingered for months after we moved in the middle of my fourth grade year.

But cheesy as it sounds, I found and created a new home for myself here in Cupertino. The rest of elementary school passed by in a blur of adjustments and making new friends, and middle school seemed to be over as soon as it started. And then I walked into high school.

High school opened up doors for me.

The first door it opened was a door of information. It opened my eyes and broadened my perspective about the world around me, the people around me and most startlingly, a realization that my living in this country wasn’t as simple of a situation as I’d previously believed. My parents began to stop treating me like a naive child and began to educate me about our visa status — which I appreciated and respected — but they also began to offer me constant reminders that since I wasn’t a citizen, I had to work harder and stand out. These reminders, to be honest, scared me a little.

The second door it opened was one of passion. Not to be dramatic, but I fell in love with writing. I began to perceive words on paper as a somewhat magical way to express myself, and journalism became a viable career option that I started to seriously consider. Yet my awareness of my complicated visa status made journalism an even more risky career to pursue and in some ways, I felt burdened by my passion.

The third door it opened was one of fear. More often than not, I catch myself thinking back to my childhood and wishing I hadn’t moved. I’ve started to detest being caught in this web of passion, parents, visa, immigration, Trump, policies, bills — the list could go on. And I think that’s sad; the fact I sometimes resent the home I love so much because it has placed constraints all around me that I seemingly have no control over.

We have a hunch as to why our stories aren’t as well known as the stories of undocumented immigrants and of Dreamers: we’re percieved as privileged, “lucky.” We have stable homes, and we don’t have to worry about being put in cages or having our parents ripped away from us. Even writing this is difficult for us because we feel guilty — guilty that our immigrant dilemma might be irrelevant and inconsequential compared to the ones of undocumented immigrants.

But the pain that comes with immigration isn’t a competition. This isn’t the pain olympics, and politicians shouldn’t just get to decide who gets to succeed and who doesn’t based on quotas and birth lotteries. This isn’t a partisan issue — both parties are equally to blame and equally unable to provide competent support for immigrants of all statuses. Yet, at the end of the day, if we can’t even vote for the politicians who represent and speak for us, we can never get the jurisdiction that we want.

This isn’t a lost cause, however. The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act (H.R. 1044) proposes to eliminate the 7% per-country limits for employment based green cards and provides them to immigrants who have the merit and “high level skill set” or education to successfully contribute to American economy and overall well being. This isn’t to say that the bill will overextend the amount of immigrants that our country can let in; it just means that the process for legal immigration will be much more efficient.

This bill has passed the House with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, but is waiting for the Senate to pass. Its companion bill, S.386, in the Senate was introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R ) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D) and has over 35 co-sponsors. However, it is being blocked by Sen. Dick Durban (D) from Illinois, who argues that the passing of this bill will disadvantage countries with lower populations and that countries like India will hold a disproportionate amount of green cards in the future. Yet the reality of the situation is that the high skilled immigrants are typically hired from a few countries with larger populations. These immigrants are left with no option but to wait for decades for their green cards under the 7% quota placed for employment based green cards.

Graphic | Oishee Misra

But again, immigration and the pain associated with it isn’t a competition. The current legal immigration system in our country is broken — passing bills like these will instigate change in the positive direction. No matter what your stance is, we urge you, all of you who can vote and have the ability to slowly push the needle of progress, to research the politicians and representatives who support true and real comprehensive immigration reform.

Immigration reform that addresses all immigrants.