I recently had the opportunity to watch a favorite childhood movie of mine: An American Tail. For anyone that hasn’t seen the movie, the story follows a young mouse from Russia, Fivel Mouskewitz, as he travels to the United States and undergoes all the tribulations that immigrants face upon arrival. Throughout his journey, he deals with everything from corrupt political machines to outright racism and we are able to gain a lens into the world of immigrants (albeit through a cute mouse and his family).
In one memorable scene prior to arriving in the ports of the United States, Fivel and his fellow immigrants are ecstatic about the prospect of living in a country where there are no cats and the streets are paved with cheese. The implication here, of course, is that the oppression and hardships that many faced in their home countries would be alleviated upon coming to the United States. After they arrive, however, they soon realize to their dismay that America is not only filled with cats, but is actually run by them.
As amusing as this image may be, the depressing fact of the matter is that this allegory is perhaps one of the most accurate reflections of the state of immigration in the United States today. In fact, this is a country where a “cat” – a symbol of exploitation and anti-immigrant sentiment – has come disastrously close to becoming the President of the United States. I’m talking, of course, about the nominee of the party of the fat cats and shrewd felines: Willard M. Romney.
America, as a country of immigrants, has always prided itself on being the beacon of hope for the rest of the world. Even one of the most quintessentially American symbols, the Statue of Liberty, screams the quote: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. And while the conversation during this presidential campaign has been staunchly focused on the economy, it is of vital importance to note the stark differences in immigration policy between candidates just several hours before the election.
First-generation immigrants founded 40% of all Fortune 500 companies and 20% of all small businesses in this country. These numbers expand tremendously when accounting for children of immigrants in just one generation and employ a significant portion of the workforce. Some of the most talented and hard-working Americans today came from immigrant backgrounds and generate close to $67 billion of the $577 billion of income/jobs that American corporations create every year. The American legacy of immigration is not one of protectionism and closed borders, but a legacy of generations who have been able to unlock their true potential in a country that welcomes them with open arms.
But a Romney Administration would essentially erode three centuries of American culture as he sends a message to the world that America is officially closed to immigrants. Perhaps most telling of his stance on immigration is who he has hired as his advisor on immigration issues, Kris Kobach. Kris Kobach, of course, is probably best well known for authoring the controversial immigration policies in Arizona and Kansas that have been mired in controversy for the past several years.
Romney has consistently stated that he is against any attempt to pass the bipartisan DREAM Act (Update: Mitt Romney, after being against the DREAM Act during the Republican primary, is now for it on his website) and has offered no comprehensive strategy for attracting talent to the United States while stemming the flow of illegal immigration. In fact, his most concrete plan so far has been to build “a high-tech fence to enhance border security” – a laughable feat at best. And Romney’s most damaging statement on immigration came when he stated that “if people don’t get work here they’re going to self-deport to a place where they can get work,” sending a message around the world that immigrants are not welcome here.
President Obama, however, has been one of the most pragmatic presidents when dealing with the issue of immigration. The Administration has doubled the number of border patrol agents and aerial support staff from 10,000 to 20,700 to stem the flow of illegal immigration. The Administration has over the past four years confiscated “75 percent more currency, 31 percent more drugs, and 64 percent more weapons” than the Bush Administration to fight the drug trade. And because the Administration has sought out to make economic integration with our partners through free trade a key priority to fighting illegal immigration, the number of illegal aliens crossing the boarder has decreased by 36% over the last 3 years. Internally, the Administration worked to pilot the e-verify system to cut down on the number of illegal immigrant employment, while having one of the highest deportation rates for any president.
Taken as a whole, the Administration has been of the most vigilant in fighting illegal immigration. However, the Administration has also been one of the most welcoming to those that are willing to come to the United States legally. The Administration has made it a priority to expedite the process of high-skilled immigrants through its EB-5 and H-1B visa programs, revamped all adjudication systems online and offline in its immigration courts, and supported the passage of the DREAM Act to provide a pathway of citizenship for young children of immigrants.
And while the Obama Administration and the Romney campaign both essentially have the same goals in mind for immigration (stem illegal immigration and attract top talent), only one side has laid out a concrete and pragmatic plan for how these goals will be achieved.
My own parents came as immigrants to the United States in the late 80s from South Korea amidst violent protests and riots around the country for democratization. They came to America for a better future for themselves and for hope of a new life in the most prosperous nation on earth. It is an issue that is near and dear to my family and for countless other immigrant families around the country and should not be treated as another footnote at the bottom of a campaign website. If America is to compete in the globalized community (where we are facing a shortage of close to a quarter million scientists and engineers in the next couple of years), we need to elect a President that has a clear history of pragmatic immigration reform. We need to elect a President that has shown a willingness to support all the little mice of the world who look to escape the cats of their country and achieve the American Dream. We need to elect Barack Obama.