September 26, 2017

DUGGAL | Immigration in Practice

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Immigration is a deeply personal issue for me.

Quick background — my family came over to the United States when I was 6, and I received my U.S. citizenship a month ago. I had been in this country for 14 years before I was legally allowed to feel as though the Pledge of Allegiance I stood next to my classmates and recited in elementary school was as much mine as it was theirs. I knew the American national anthem before I knew India even had one of their own, and even today, I can tell you far more about the Founding Fathers than I ever could about Gandhi. For those who insist the immigration law in this country needs reform because it is not robust enough, I implore you to figure out what the hell you’re talking about — and soon, before you deny millions of deserving people the right to live as equals in a country they have contributed to as much as the people lucky enough to have simply been born here.

I am thankful every single day for the process my family incurred in securing our right to be citizens in this country . Every single day, I am reminded of the ways in which my life would not be the same if even one thing had been different during our immigration process. I was a green card holder when I applied to college. My chances of being accepted to Cornell as an international student living in the United States on a visa are slim to none. The international students pool of applicants is often thought of as only students that go to schools abroad, but many people don’t realize that this pool also includes students that have been part of the American education system for the majority of their life, but are here on a visa as opposed to being permanent residents or American citizens. A fitting example? The valedictorian at my high school applied to colleges on an H1B visa, and was rejected from schools at which his transcript, SAT scores and subject tests scores far exceeded even the 75th percentile of the student body. You can argue that maybe he just wasn’t the kind of applicant those schools were looking for and that getting into college isn’t just about your stats, but to pretend that his immigration status did not have any impact on where he ended up (and how much he’s paying) would be, frankly, ridiculous.

Of course, this is simply one example from my life. If you would like broader statistics because you believe my view of immigration policy and college admissions is too narrow, there is more information available in demographic data void of bias. My account is personal because my experience with immigration in the United States is personal. I feel little obligation to crowd my words with percentages because there is always more information available to those who choose to educate themselves, and yet we find ourselves facing increasingly ignorant changes to immigration policy within the United States because people do not hear the stories that stand behind every decision to make the legal process toward citizenship harder.

Your legal status in this country either opens doors for you or shuts them on you. If you believe that working hard or following all the right steps in the immigration process somehow guarantees that you will be afforded the same opportunities as everyone else, you are wrong. There are students at Cornell (and across the nation) on visas that cannot apply to the same jobs as you. There are students that are choosing to set aside what they truly want to do for a job that might sponsor them to simply stay in the United States for the next year. Do not tell them that going through the process legally will work for them. The chances that it will not are very high because the process was not set up with their opportunities in mind.

I am privileged to be an American citizen today. I spoke to a friend over the summer who also recently received his citizenship, but scheduled his oath ceremony early so he could have President Obama’s signature on his certificate. I, on the other hand, insisted on having President Trump’s signature on my naturalization certificate. There is something important about recognizing a difficult political climate, especially one that you disagree with so strongly. To me, my naturalization certificate is a reminder of my privilege. It is a reminder that there are an increasing number who cannot consider themselves as lucky as I can today. Part of being privileged is working to ensure that those who do not currently have access to the same opportunities you do will soon. Travel bans and rescinding DACA is not recognizing and fighting immigration inequality. I cannot forget my privilege when I consider the impacts of these actions because my family has fought hard to feel the kind of relief we do today when we hear about changes in immigration policy. You should not, however, need to have felt the stress of not being a citizen weigh on you in order for you to fight for those that have.

 

Hebani Duggal is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at hduggal@cornellsun.com. Teach me How to Duggal appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.