Das: One new citizen's take on immigration reform
Earlier this month -- 23 years, 10 months and 20 days after I first set foot in this country -- I took the oath that made me a citizen of the United States. I've spent almost my entire adult life in this country. Along the way, I had student visas, work visas and, for the last decade, a green card.
I pledged allegiance to the United States along with 149 others from 36 countries, from Albania to Uruguay. The oath was given in a federal building -- our Ellis Island -- in downtown Manhattan. I looked at my fellow new Americans and was struck by their diversity. I saw Africans, Asians, Arabs, Latin Americans and Europeans. The room was a microcosm of cosmopolitan New York.
The ceremony was short but moving. After the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem, President Barack Obama addressed us in a video. We each left with a small American flag, a citizen's almanac, a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, a guide to voting rights, and a certificate of naturalization.
For us, this proud moment was the culmination of many years of anticipation and worry. But for many hopeful immigrants it's a moment that will never come, because these days securing a visa to work in the United States is often impossible.
As House Republicans ponder immigration reform in "bite-size chunks," as John Boehner has said, they should remember that immigration is in the country's economic and strategic interest. More than one-third of the 200,000 small businesses in New York City are owned by first-generation immigrants. Across the country, more than one in six small business owners are immigrants. They have created thousands of jobs.
It used to be easier for qualified people to immigrate. Today it is increasingly difficult to get work visas for skilled workers. Restrictive policies implemented in the wake of 9 / 11 continue to drive talented people to countries like Canada, Singapore and Australia.
Almost all immigrants -- legal and illegal -- are here because they want to be. They want to work. There's a selection effect, one that chooses the risk takers and the entrepreneurs.
While it's not perfect, the immigration bill in front of Congress does a lot to improve our current system. It's something that Congress ignores at the nation's peril.
Saswato R. Das lives on the Upper West Side.