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America is Immigration




America is Immigration

Asian-American, Cuban-American, European-American, African-American, Mexican-American"…"different backgrounds, different cultures, but all united by the fact that when the hyphen is eliminated we are all Americans.
Over the years the United States has been called a nation of immigrants. The fact that we are a melting pot for so many different cultures, races, and religions makes us unique in the world. It is also what has helped mold our national character. For more than 300 years, various ethnic, cultural, and social groups have come to our shores to reunite with their loved ones, to seek economic opportunity, and to find a haven from religious and political persecution. They bring their hopes, their dreams, and, in turn, contribute, enrich, and energize America.

And yet, today, we are witnessing television shows that vilify newcomers as scam artists, news stories that showcase the growing backlash against immigration, and politicians and reporters who make no distinction between immigrants entering the country legally or illegally. Unfortunately, much of what we are reading, hearing, and seeing is based on fiction, not fact. So what is the true story?

Less than a million immigrants arrive in the United States each year. Of these, 700,000 enter as lawful permanent residents and another 100,000 to 150,000 enter legally as refugees or others fleeing persecution. Undocumented immigrants constitute only 1% of the total U.S. population and, contrary to popular belief, most of these immigrants do not enter the United States illegally by crossing our border with Canada or Mexico. Instead most immigrants here illegally, 6 out of 10, enter the U.S. legally with a student, tourist, or business visa and become illegal when they stay in the United States after their visas expire.

Most legal immigrants, about 8 out of 11, come to join close family members. Family-sponsored immigrants enter as either immediate relatives--spouses, unmarried minor children, parents-- of U.S. citizens, or through the family preference system, for relatives of permanent residents and siblings of U.S. citizens. While there are unlimited number of visas issued for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, INS data shows that only around 235,000 visas have been issued annually in this category in recent years. The family preference system is far more restrictive and limits the number of visas issued in its four categories to a total of 226,000 per year. In addition, the waiting period for a visa can very long. For example, a sibling of a U.S. citizen who applies today to immigrate to this country could get a visa 30 years from now.

It is easy to see that family reunification is the cornerstone of our legal immigration policy. It is truly one of the most visible areas in government policy in which we support and strengthen family values. We acknowledge that family unification translates into strong families who build strong communities.

The second priority of our legal admissions system allows employers to bring in a relatively small number of skilled workers from overseas when there are no qualified Americans available to fill the job. This doesn't mean that we shirk our responsibility to educate and train those already here. It only means that we recognize the need to be able to attract talented and hardworking individuals from all corners of the world and to acquire often needed expertise and experience.

This concept is not new. Throughout our history we have relied on the strength, expertise, and special skills of foreign workers and immigrants to build this country. As early as 1610 Italian craftsmen were brought to the New World by the Virginia Colony to start the glass trade. In the mid- 1800s American manufacturers advertised in European newspapers offering free passage to any man willing to come to the United States to work for them. Immigrant workers have altered American life and their contributions were, and still are, significant to the economic growth of our nation.

Finally, American immigration policy fulfills our commitment to religious and political freedom. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," is not rhetoric, it is America's pledge to ensure that those brave men and women who face the prospect of ethnic cleansing, religious oppression, torture, and even death have a haven. Because this country was founded in large part by those who fled various kinds of political and religious persecution, it has become of our historical responsibility to serve as an advocate for human rights.


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