No political issue in American discourse is more emotionally charged than immigration.
It's always been that way.
Throughout American history, we saw denizens of the community stand-up before Congress and before town halls around the country, proclaiming the new immigrants, whether they be Irish, Jewish, Italian, or Mexican, as the unwashed horde, taking our jobs, bringing lawlessness, disease, unwillingness to learn English and assimilate, living on the dole -- and in a phrase -- destroying the American way of life.
But that is the rub.
What is the "American" way of life?
While we have failed to learn from the lessons of our own history, what the country has experienced is undisputed.
After each wave of immigrant newcomers, the country became stronger. The energy, entrepreneurship, innovation, access to global markets, family values and newly-minted patriotism of American immigrants has been a boon to this country.
Clearly, in times of economic and national security stress, we are less able to see the immigrant dividend, and more likely to view the foreign-born with suspicion.
This is human nature.
But this thinking must change for us to move forward in rebuilding the American economy.
Politicians have a duty to move the country away from the divisive xenophobic rhetoric that pits "us" against "them," and to lead us to a more united front, a belief that together we can compete and win in the global economy.
We need to move away from the games of partisanship and stoking the fires of distrust of the "other," to building the most talented teams on the planet --- and play to win.
And immigrants can help.
We know from studies from the Kauffman Foundation and others that immigrants are twice as likely than native-born to launch a new company or earn a patent. We know that immigrant entrepreneurs and families are breathing new life into dying, depopulating urban centers. We know that nearly two-thirds of graduates of many science and engineering Ph.D programs at U.S. universities are foreign born.
But many talented immigrants are leaving the U.S., or not coming at all, because of antiquated immigration rules that make it extremely difficult to get green cards.
And it's not just the highly educated immigrant that can help jumpstart the U.S. economy. One study from UCLA indicates that if the country legalizes the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living amongst us, over $1.5 trillion will be injected into the nation's GDP over the next 10 years.
Because immigrants equipped with legal status and social security card will do what Americans have always done to keep the economy humming along. Consume. They will come out of the shadows and buy houses, cars, and send their kids to college.
President Obama's recently announced program to help legalize some undocumented youth is the step in the right direction.
Approximately one million young undocumented immigrants are thirsting for every drop of information they can find regarding the biggest and newest immigration law to help the undocumented community since 2001.
It's called Deferred Action.
On August 15, 2012, eligible undocumented immigrants can apply to receive a 2-year deferral on
deportation and a 2-year work authorization card.
With these documents, a semi-sense of normalcy will be felt by thousands of young people in the U.S. -- many of whom want to go to college and give back to this great country.Eligible individuals for the new Deferred Action program, as outlined in U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jane Napolitano's memo, "Deferred Action Process for Young People Who Are Low Enforcement Priorities," are those who:
- Came to the United States under the age of sixteen;
- Have continuously resided in the United States for at least five years preceding June 15, 2012, and are present in the United States on June 15, 2012;
- Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
- Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety; and
- Are not above the age of thirty as of June 15, 2012.
Those who have final deportation or removal orders, or are in removal proceedings, or who have never been detected by the government, are eligible to apply based on the above criteria.
The filing fee is $465 and applications will become available at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service website on August 15th at www.USCIS.gov. The USCIS is ramping up for an avalanche of applications. Processing them in a fair and timely manner will be a herculean task.
It's nice to see that some immigrant-founded companies like Levi's and Intel, are funding, through their foundations, efforts to help young people apply for this program. Scholarship programs and in-state tuition should also be offered these young people who are granted deferred action.
This is the right thing to do and it is good business for the country.
As the Partnership for a New American Economy research demonstrates, immigrants or children of immigrants are behind the founding of nearly 40% of all the Fortune 500 companies (think GE, Google, Dinsney, McDonald's, Apple...), which are providing millions of jobs to folks in the U.S.
So, what is changing about this new immigration discussion?
After hundreds of thousands of young people obtain Deferred Action under this new program, the country will see that the sky hasn't fallen and that the American way of life, in fact, has not been destroyed.
What we will see is what we have always experienced.
Immigrants living and achieving the American Dream -- and providing new opportunities for all of us.
This important step by President Obama will help change the conversation on immigration, and hopefully, help Americans understand that smart immigration reform will help revive the economy and create American jobs.
If we are going to play the immigration game, let's play to win.
Follow Richard Herman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ImmigrantInc