“We pushed back on the undue influence of special interests,” President Obama said. “We didn’t give in to mistrust or to cynicism or to fear. Instead, we proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things.”
The President was talking about the historic healthcare overhaul that passed the House 219-212 last night and is now headed to his desk for signature. Let’s hope his statement foreshadows what he will say about immigration reform in the months to come. The healthcare battle demonstrated the fight for immigration reform will be tough. But we knew that. Now, at least, we know that an immigration overhaul is possible.
It was symbolic that Sunday’s immigration reform rally in Washington, which according to reports was tens of thousands strong, was overshadowed by the drama that played out in the Congress over the healthcare bill. Since the Administration took office in 2009, immigration reform has played second fiddle to the overhaul of the healthcare system. But now that healthcare reform has become a reality, it is time for the Administration and Congress to get to the hard work of overhauling our badly broken immigration system.
The dysfunctional immigration system is a cancer that whittles away at the very fabric of our cherished democratic values every day it continues to fester. Each time an outstanding scientist, innovative business investor, or creative professional is turned away from our country because of inadequate visa numbers or restrictionist agency enforcement America’s competitive edge is further weakened. Our nation’s ability to compete in a global economy demands transnational employment. Each immigrant that is locked up due to draconian mandatory detention laws, without so much as the right to see a judge, demonstrates that the rights of all Americans are threatened by bad immigration laws. Each undocumented child who is denied a higher education or a chance to serve our country is evidence that the broken immigration system has transformed the American Dream into a nightmare for some of America’s most promising children.
Senators Graham and Schumer began to put pen to paper last week by laying out a four pillared framework for immigration reform: ending illegal employment through biometric Social Security cards, enhancing border and interior enforcement, managing the flow of future immigration to correspond to economic realities, and creating a tough but fair path toward legalization for the 11 million people currently in the U.S. without authorization. While I have serious questions about a couple of the proposals—the biometric Social Security card raises important privacy concerns for example—I am encouraged that with the passage of healthcare reform immigration will now move to the front burner. Hopefully, Senators Graham and Schumer (and President Obama) took a few minutes Sunday morning to read Tom Friedman’s excellent piece in the New York Times about a dinner he attended last week for the finalists of the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search, which, through a national contest, identifies and honors the top math and science high school students in America. http://nyti.ms/aCHxIj. As Friedman writes, most finalists were from immigrant families:
Indeed, if you need any more convincing about the virtues of immigration, just come to the Intel science finals. I am a pro-immigration fanatic. I think keeping a constant flow of legal immigrants into our country — whether they wear blue collars or lab coats — is the key to keeping us ahead of China. Because when you mix all of these energetic, high-aspiring people with a democratic system and free markets, magic happens. If we hope to keep that magic, we need immigration reform that guarantees that we will always attract and retain, in an orderly fashion, the world’s first-round aspirational and intellectual draft choices.
This isn’t complicated. In today’s wired world, the most important economic competition is no longer between countries or companies. The most important economic competition is actually between you and your own imagination. Because what your kids imagine, they can now act on farther, faster, cheaper than ever before — as individuals. Today, just about everything is becoming a commodity, except imagination, except the ability to spark new ideas.
If I just have the spark of an idea now, I can get a designer in Taiwan to design it. I can get a factory in China to produce a prototype. I can get a factory in Vietnam to mass manufacture it. I can use Amazon.com to handle fulfillment. I can use freelancer.com to find someone to do my logo and manage by backroom. And I can do all this at incredibly low prices. The one thing that is not a commodity and never will be is that spark of an idea. And this Intel dinner was all about our best sparklers.
Before the dinner started, each contestant stood by a storyboard explaining their specific project. Namrata Anand, a 17-year-old from the Harker School in California, patiently explained to me her research, which used spectral analysis and other data to expose information about the chemical enrichment history of “Andromeda Galaxy.” I did not understand a word she said, but I sure caught the gleam in her eye.
My favorite chat, though, was with Amanda Alonzo, a 30-year-old biology teacher at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, Calif. She had taught two of the finalists. When I asked her the secret, she said it was the resources provided by her school, extremely “supportive parents” and a grant from Intel that let her spend part of each day inspiring and preparing students to enter this contest. Then she told me this: Local San Jose realtors are running ads in newspapers in China and India telling potential immigrants to “buy a home” in her Lynbrook school district because it produced “two Intel science winners.”
Seriously, ESPN or MTV should broadcast the Intel finals live. All of the 40 finalist are introduced, with little stories about their lives and aspirations. Then the winners of the nine best projects are announced. And finally, with great drama, the overall winner of the $100,000 award for the best project of the 40 is identified. This year it was Erika Alden DeBenedictis of New Mexico for developing a software navigation system that would enable spacecraft to more efficiently “travel through the solar system.” After her name was called, she was swarmed by her fellow competitor-geeks.
Gotta say, it was the most inspiring evening I’ve had in D.C. in 20 years. It left me thinking, “If we can just get a few things right — immigration, education standards, bandwidth, fiscal policy — maybe we’ll be O.K.” It left me feeling that maybe Alice Wei Zhao of North High School in Sheboygan, Wis., chosen by her fellow finalists to be their spokeswoman, was right when she told the audience: “Don’t sweat about the problems our generation will have to deal with. Believe me, our future is in good hands.”
As long as we don’t shut our doors.