In the New York Times Magazine this week was an article written by Jose Antonio Vargas, in which he “outed” himself as an undocumented worker. He was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings. It was an incredible piece of journalism. His public confession again raises the issues of immigration reform.
I’ve said before that the U.S. needs to reform its immigration policies.
It’s people like Jose Vargas that we need to be changing our laws to protect. It’s people like Jose Vargas that make our country a better place. He came to the United States when he was 12 years old (his mother put him on an airplane with a coyote, who smuggled him into the country under a false passport), and he didn’t find out he was undocumented until he was 16 years old, and went to the DMV to get a drivers’ permit.
He went to college and worked hard to get a degree, and worked hard in his chosen profession. He was a model “citizen,” and contributed greatly to society. He was a net positive for our society. It’s these people that we need to draw our laws around. How many millions of immigrants do we turn away from America when they are highly-skilled, highly-educated? We should never tell these people that America is full.
This month, in Knowledge @ Wharton, there’s an article entitled, “‘Brain Drain,’ or ‘Brain Exchange’: What is the Cost When Immigrant Entrepreneurs Go Home?“ In it is this revealing paragraph:
For a majority of highly skilled immigrants who want to start companies, the promised land is no longer the United States, writes Wadhwa and four co-authors in a recent report from the Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City, Mo.-based non-profit that supports research on entrepreneurship. In “The Grass Is Indeed Greener in India and China for Returnee Entrepreneurs,” the researchers surveyed 153 professionals who returned from the U.S. to India or China to start a business. They found that 72% of Indians and 81% of Chinese said the opportunities to start a company in their home countries “were better or much better” than in the United States.
The United States is no longer the place where people go for a better life. People no longer want to stay in America and live the American dream. Instead, they want to get their education, and return to their home country, where they can live the Indian dream, or the Chinese dream.
This is unacceptable for America. We are driving away the very people that we should be welcoming with open arms. We are closing our doors with an isolationist immigration policy.
Other countries are adapting to their need for more highly skilled and highly educated workers, including Germany, which is revamping its immigration policy to encourage highly skilled workers to come to Germany.
Immigration is good for the economy. Increasing the size and complexity of our workforce allows our workforce to have greater specialization and efficiency. Immigration policy also allows immigrants to unlock their full potential (a potential that might otherwise be bottled up under a more oppressive or unstable society).
Our immigration policy is all out of whack. Here’s a story from The Economist earlier this year:
I KNOW a man who came to America alone as a teenager with no money or contacts. Within ten years he had a PhD and high-paying job. Then the financial crisis hit and he lost his job. He had an H1-B visa at the time which meant that if he did not find another job fast he’d have to leave the country. It was a tense few months for him. For a while it looked like he might be deported. In the mean time his sister, who was not nearly as well educated, got a green card (which ensures permanent residence independent of employment) because she was a political refugee. And because she had a green card she was able to secure one for my friend’s mother, who had not finished elementary school.
Our immigration policy doesn’t allow a highly skilled person to remain in our country (contributing a huge amount to our economy), but it allows other people, who contribute less, to stay in the country, and act as anchors for still other people. Now, I’m a big proponent of letting just about everyone into our country (having a pretty loose immigration policy); but we should AT LEAST be encouraging the best and brightest from around the world to come and help America continue to lead the world.
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