I was born in Beijing. Shortly after I was born, my parents left for the United States so my dad could continue his studies. I arrived in the US three years later. I only have two memories of life before arriving stateside. One was standing in a stairwell with a bright red exit sign with my grandparents. The other was being on the airplane next to my uncle. I remember them serving peanuts mid-flight.
My grandparents flew over to visit my family a few times during my childhood. It shames me to say that I didn’t much care for those visits. They were people who I rarely saw, speaking a language I could barely understand. My parents never let me forget that we were blood, but aside from a grudging acceptance of that fact, I never felt any bond. It’s safe to say that I was an American before my parents ever filed my N-400.
And now that I’ve been on this planet for 26 years, I think it’s safe to say that I’m pretty successful. I have a 4 year degree from a prestigious college. I work as a software developer for a Fortune 500 company. I contribute heavily to my 401(k), Roth IRA, and taxable brokerage accounts. I have a mortgage on a condo whose value has increased greatly since I bought it 3 years ago near the trough of the local real estate market. By any reasonable socioeconomic or financial measure, I’ve made it. It’s not the greatest success story, but it is a success story.
It’s also an American success story. Because if I had been raised in any other country, I don’t think it’s likely that I would have had anywhere close to the same level of success that I currently have. Had my family stayed in China, the best case scenario for me would be becoming a mid-level local government bureaucrat after 2 decades of exhaustive rote study.
If my parents had moved to Western Europe, with their inflexible labor markets and dogmatic preference for native candidates, there is still a chance that I could have turned out similarly. But it’s a much smaller chance. The only other country that comes close to the US is Canada, which is simply America’s hat.
Right now, the cause of comprehensive immigration reform has stalled in Congress. Our lawmakers are scared of angering important constituencies as we move closer to the midterms. So it’s highly unlikely that we’ll reform our inefficient and labyrinthine immigration system, which is a real shame.
Our current immigration system only provides for foreigners who are either rich, famous, smart (and credentialed), or have immediate family who are currently legal permanent residents within the US. For everybody else, unless they win one of the 55,000 slots for permanent residency through the annual Green Card Lottery, there is no legal pathway to permanent residency and citizenship in the United States.
My parents were smart and credentialed. That’s why the US government approved their immigrant visas. And I am extremely grateful that they were smart and credentialed, because if they weren’t, I would still be in China. The only reason I’m not is because I had the great fortune of being born to two extraordinarily intelligent and hard working people.
Fortune does not shine on most newborns that way. The vast majority of babies are born to poor and poorly educated parents in an undeveloped country. Many are consigned to a life of deprivation and turmoil. I can’t, in good conscience, deny them the opportunity to escape that life. Who are we, the immigrants and children of immigrants living in a fabulously wealthy country by sheer dint of luck, to deny other people the same opportunity to prosper as we did?
The people who dream of coming to our shores don’t dream of leeching off our welfare system. They dream of coming here and succeeding on their own merits in a system that still values merit. The same goes for the illegal immigrants who crossed our borders, not in an act of defiance for our country’s laws, but out of desperation and hope.
I have a great love for America, but that doesn’t mean that I think our nation’s institutions and laws are perfect. Our Republic was conceived on the principle that all men are created equal. That men have rights and freedoms endowed not by other men nor their various creations, but from Providence on high. It’s my hope that, in time, our nation’s laws will better reflect that principle.