Mr. President: I am a legal alien who came to this country driven by dreams of building a better life for myself.
While your immigration executive actions have made me stand proud, they have also left me wondering whether I am a sucker.
I have been in America nearly a decade, and always with a legal immigration status. However, it didn't take me long to figure out that somewhere along the way core American values -- family, hard work, honesty, integrity -- were no longer the guiding principles of its immigration policy. Those values seem to have been buried under the tangled web of counter intuitive, confusing immigration rules and regulations that govern who gets to take a shot at the American dream, and who does not.
Since I arrived in America my dreams (and ethics) have been tried and tested at every turn by the broken immigration system. To maintain my legal status, I had to do some crazy things. For example, I had to "self-deport" back to my home country, just so the Department of State could put a stamp in my passport which would allow me to return under the exact same visa status I had before I left! Other times the rules effectively prevented me from leaving -- even visiting a sick relative -- without losing my immigration status.
Yet make no mistake: I remain eternally grateful to this very special country. Despite all odds I am still here, still dreaming about the day that I too will become an official member of the American family.
I am not alone. There many more like me -- journalists, investors, entrepreneurs, scientists, researchers, physicians -- all legally making contributions to America's culture, social fabric and economy. Yet we live at the mercy of obsolete, arbitrary and seemingly mean spirited rules and quotas, surviving a system that seems to thrive on placing obstacles in the way of those who play by the rules. This slows America down, costs all of us who pay taxes money, and makes America less competitive at a time when that is more important than ever.
Mr. President, as much as I agree with the spirit of your executive actions which will bring millions of undocumented immigrants temporarily out of the shadows, I also understand those who oppose what you have done.
In their eyes, you granted "amnesty" to those who have broken the law. I use the word "amnesty" deliberately because to those of us who have done the right thing, waited in line, dealt with the bureaucracy, and paid the price it looks like a pardon to those who valued their presence in the U.S. more than they valued following the law.
Mr. President, what is your message to people like me? I can't help but wonder if I'd be in a better position today if I too had broken the rules -- entered the country illegally or failed to keep my papers in order. If I qualified for your reprieve, I too would soon be able to work without being tied to a single employer -- as most temporary workers are, or free to visit my aging grandmother overseas without worrying about whether or not I'd be allowed to return.
This experience leaves me with two thoughts.
First, Congress needs to get to work and forge a safe, orderly, and fair immigration system; it hasn't done its job and I applaud you for doing yours.
Second, there is more you can do to make the immigration system work better if Congress refuses to fix it. You have said that your executive actions shouldn't take the place of Congressional action. But, respectfully, there is more you can do to reform the immigration bureaucracy that seems to have hung a big "Not Open For Business" sign around the neck of the Statue of Liberty. I urge you to reduce waiting times for those immigrants already in legal process and create more opportunities for those of us who are trying to do it the right way but are stymied by limited options.
America's outdated immigration policies need to be updated to meet the challenges of a global, 21st century American economy. We must do this now in order to keep America the most competitive, dynamic and free country in the world: not just for the benefit of the United States, but of the world in which we live.
Originally posted on The Hill's Congress Blog.