Truman National Security Project

Young immigrants need pathway to citizenship

American passport
By Jay Chen | 10.2.13
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Growing up in America as the son of immigrant parents, I learned two important lessons. First, to work hard. Second, to appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to succeed in America. The first lesson got me through Harvard University, the second led me to join the U.S. Naval Reserve with the hopes that my service might give other young people of similar circumstances the chance to succeed.

My family’s opportunity in America started with my father’s acceptance at the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. But like many Asian-Americans, his ability to immigrate legally was possible only through family sponsorship. Sadly, too many talented and hard-working people of all backgrounds don’t have the same opportunity under current immigration laws. It’s our country and our economy that lose as a result.

Immigration reform that focuses on strengthening the United States’ economy by drawing on the diversity, talents and economic power of immigrants is a start.

So, too, are sensible reforms that secure America by shifting away from our narrow focus on border control and deportation of families who mean our country no harm and instead taking a broad view of security that includes reducing threats by air and sea, as well as by land.

Earlier this year, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill that offered the opportunity to fix a broken system. Although strong majorities of both Democrats and Republicans support comprehensive immigration reform, a few House Republican members are holding up the reforms we need to boost our economy and bolster our national security. They’re refusing to bring forward a bill that contains a critical component of immigration reform: a path to citizenship for those willing to go to the back of the line, to work and to learn English.

Without citizenship, immigration reform will create a permanent second-class status for some immigrants. Fewer undocumented immigrants will come out of the shadows, hampering both our economy and our security. If we fail to offer a path to full citizenship, we will shortchange ourselves of the contributions our nation’s diverse immigrants yearn to make through the military or through other service to our nation.

Our country is unique, and it is successful because, throughout history, we have embraced immigration. I believe our Congress can do better than to create a permanent underclass of immigrants. Bipartisan reforms like those passed by the Senate would result in real economic progress. As a Taiwanese American, I know my background benefits our nation’s armed forces at a time when unknown challenges face us on the Pacific Rim and too few of our leaders have a cultural understanding of this critical region. It’s also my hope that young people might see that Asian Americans can and do serve our country and know they too can break through barriers such as becoming a Navy officer.

Whether they aspire to military service, to attend Harvard, or to contribute their talents, skills and work to our nation in other ways, young immigrants need more than just inspiration; they need a pathway to citizenship.

Jay Chen is a Truman National Security Project Political Partner. This article originally appeared on the Orange Country Register