Time to Open the Door

Samuel came to the United States on a student visa after being accepted to a prominent American University. Fluent in several languages, he spoke English without an accent, and graduated at the top of his class.

Shortly after he concluded his studies, Samuel landed a job at a local small business. Bright and articulate, he proved to be extremely popular among staff and clients alike, and became the owner’s right hand man. As months passed he became indispensable, carrying much of the workload and played a crucial part in keeping the business profitable.

With his student visa set to expire twelve months after he left school, his employer made certain to file for a H-1B work visa on his behalf from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

Samuel, a young professional with a U.S. masters degree, was a perfect example for whom this visa category was created for. The carefully-filled-out form proved that every one of the conditions and regulations were met.

But when the student visa expired, there was no word yet from the Immigration authorities. Only 85,000 visas are allotted each year (20,000 of which are only available to individuals who received a masters degree in the U.S.) which is significantly less than the amount of otherwise qualified individuals who apply.

This left the small business owner in a quandary.  Should he let Samuel go, which would have a severely negative impact on his company, or should he break the law and keep him? Samuel too was at a loss. He desperately wanted to stay in America, and knew that he was contributing to the nation’s economy. Yet legally, he had no right to stay, let alone work.

Samuel’s story is true and typical. His name and some identifying details have been changed. Fearing deportation and possible prosecution, individuals like Samuel and his employer will in most cases only agree to speak to the media if their identity is hidden.

“No matter how much we may give to the American economy, the system is rigged against us,” Samuel says. “While visa requests by those who marry American spouses are handled  expeditiously — for good reason — workers can wait ten years before hearting back about their H-1B application. In most cases, no matter how gifted or well trained you may be, if you come to the United States in order to work, you have to do so illegally.”

From a legal perspective, Samuel is no different from one of the countless young men and women who smuggle their way across the porous border and soon receive a low paying job at a family-owned store. Working hard, they learn English, earn the trust of their bosses, and even received promotions and pay raises. According to the American government, they aren’t even here. Obviously, they don’t pay any taxes, nor does they have any medical insurance. Since they can’t buy a house, lease a car or even open a bank account, they send much of their earnings back to their home country.

Then there is the disheartening plight of the illegal aliens who came here as young children. They dread the thought of being deported to a country whose language they don’t speak and whose culture they find foreign. America is the only country they have ever known, but in the eyes of the law, they have no right to be here.

On Wednesday, the Senate opened its first hearing on a comprehensive immigration overhaul with a call from a committee chairman for swift action on a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.

“The president is right: Now is the time,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, declared at the hearing, a day after President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address to renew his call for immigration reform and eventual citizenship for illegal immigrants.

We fully agree. Only a year ago, immigration reform seemed an ideal that was unlikely to occur in the near future. But with polls finding more American support for eventual citizenship for illegal immigrants, and with many Republican leaders coming around to the same view, there is a currently a very real window of opportunity to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

Though the bipartisan group of Senators working on a comprehensive solution include

Marco Rubio, who has been mentioned as a presidential candidate in 2016, and John McCain, who lost to Obama in 2008, deep divisions continue to exist within the GOP.

Many Republicans have genuine concerns that need to be addressed in the final bill.

However, it is imperative to keep in mind that other than those who descend from native American tribes, the ancestors of the overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens settled here from other countries.

With some willpower and a caring heart, America, a nation built by immigrants, can certainly find a way to protect the needs and interests of its lawful citizens, while opening its doors wide to the tired, the poor and the  huddled masses yearning to breathe free.