Immigration and border security are truly personal issues for me. When we came from India, my father had $8 in his pocket despite having a civil engineering degree. My mother had a degree in psychology, no small feat for an Indian woman at that time. We struggled. Yet America gave my family a chance to rise and thrive, the very reasons that brought us to the United States in the first place. Eventually, we settled in a working-class suburb of Cleveland where I grew up in the shadow of a Ford plant. I passionately believe that we must remain a land of opportunity for those who are willing to work for it.
We ALL deserve an accountable immigration system providing a clear, affordable path to citizenship for those who qualify and have earned it. We also need secure borders. While those two ideas should not be mutually exclusive, our current climate politicizes an issue that, at its core, has real lives at stake.
Most immediately, the U.S. needs a ”clean” DREAM Act that provides a fair pathway to eventual American citizenship for this unique segment of the undocumented population – no strings attached. DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which President Obama pointed out in 2012 was never meant as a permanent solution, acknowledged more than 51,000 hardworking Arizonans without criminal records, most of whom only know the US as home, who were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents. DACA brought these folks out of the darkness, so to speak, so that they could be accounted for in the U.S. in a climate of trust that is currently being betrayed.
DREAMERs are our neighbors, friends, colleagues, and even family members. They are productive members of our society, academic stars and teammates, paramedics and teachers, small business owners, even soldiers and sailors. Perhaps that is why 400 CEOs signed a letter in 2017 urging President Trump not to end DACA without addressing DREAMers’ situation.
In the bigger picture, the U.S. does need comprehensive immigration reform. The conversation must move beyond the present binary choice offered by Washington between enforcement (i.e., border security) and legalization (i.e., pathway to citizenship). We need a conversation that moves our immigration policies into the 21st century by recognizing modern immigration patterns, economic realities and national security threats. Americans deserve an honest dialogue about such issues as family immigration categories, worker programs and employer verification systems, and how to fairly and humanely address refugees and asylum seekers.
Finally, in securing our borders we must avoid easy symbolism and take a real look at the situation and our options. Front and center in this discussion at the moment is a border wall between the United States and Mexico, estimated in February 2017 by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security at $21.6 BILLION. I am firmly opposed to “the wall,” and believe that even a fraction of those funds would be better spent towards securing our borders in other ways. For example, technology and staffing, especially at our ports of entry – through which the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency recognizes most of the marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines are smuggled into the U.S. – would be more effective. Furthermore, data suggests that the wall would have a negative effect on our economy, with potentially more significant effects on border states such as Arizona. We can do better than building a wall.
In the long arc of history, America’s immigrants have contributed culturally, economically, and academically by continually adding vibrant threads to that great American quilt. I am proud, thankful, and honored to be an American, and will fight to keep the American dream alive.