I am an immigrant. In my 15 years in America, I've created hundreds of jobs. I’ve paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in income, corporate, and payroll taxes. I’ve volunteered hundreds of hours. I’ve mentored hundreds of people. I’ve built a community with more than 20,000 people nationwide. I’ve created millions of dollars worth of economic opportunities for the 1000+ entrepreneurs in that community. In return, I’ve been thwarted and rejected at every single juncture of my immigration journey. I lost the H1B visa lottery in 2008, despite being sponsored by an elite firm founded by one of the world’s foremost management thinkers. Then, when Microsoft sponsored my green card in 2009, my application and hundreds of others got stuck in litigation with the federal government for almost four years. We were all ultimately rejected. I had to go through the entire process a second time. To add insult to injury, in 2017 my citizenship application was also rejected at the final step of a long and expensive application process. The officer found a technical loophole and rejected me right after I passed the citizenship test and read three sentences aloud to prove that I can speak english. To be fair, he looked like he felt a little bad when I burst into tears. But I don’t blame him or begrudge him. He was doing his job. I re-applied for citizenship in early 2017. It took another 18 months for it to come through. This year, I will vote in a presidential election for the first time as an American citizen. I can’t wait.
This Monday night President Trump announced, nonchalantly and without detail, that the United States is now closed for immigration. Most likely, this move is designed to deflect attention from criticism of the White House’s response to the current crisis. At the same time, this announcement is an obvious next step to the escalating rhetoric and policy decisions of the past few years. We should have all seen this coming. And it will get worse.
Anti-immigrant sentiment had been present in American society for decades - certainly as fair back as 1929, when my grandfather - a Jewish refugee - was turned away at Ellis Island. In the last four years, long-simmering prejudices have hatefully bubbled up to the surface, encouraged and leveraged from the top.
And yet, immigrants like me bring a world of value wherever we go. We are gritty and hardworking. We leave everything behind to seek opportunity and once we find it, we build, we create economic value, we give back and we bring others along.
In my teens and early twenties I sought opportunity, and there was absolutely no question of where that opportunity was to be found. It was in the United States of America, this great country of opportunity, innovation, talent and camaraderie. But if we ask the scrappy teens and twenty-somethings around the world today, I quite doubt that the answer would be the same. America doesn’t want immigrants. It says so right on the cover of the New York Times.
I am a model immigrant. I worked so hard at becoming a citizen, a business owner and a leader in our community. Yet for years now, I’ve questioned whether immigrants are wanted here, in this great country that was built by immigrants.
The America that I dreamed of in my youth is fading one lie at a time. One climate denier, one school shooting, one family separated at the border, one unnecessary COVID-19 death, one hateful message at a time. It’s heartbreaking. It’s scary. It’s worrisome.
But it’s not insurmountable.
You know how we’ll actually make America great again? By welcoming, supporting and working together with, immigrants like me.