An estimated 60,000 converged on the Capitol on Wednesday to tell Congress to take legislative action to enact comprehensive and fair immigration reform. To borrow a line from so many of yesterday’s speakers and protesters, “the time is now.”
But one group that deserved more time at the rally was undocumented youth, who need measures such as the Dream Act, which would enable these youths who were brought into the country with their parents to come out of the shadows and eventually become citizens.
These undocumented youth, who will play an important part in America’s future, make this as much a youth movement as it is an immigration movement.
Nadia, a student and organizer with the mid-Atlantic United We Dream, talked about the importance of immigration reform to youth. Speaking from her own experience, she said that she and her parents came to the United States 13 years ago as a way to provide a better future for her. However, due to being undocumented and the barriers that come with it for higher education, she said, “our American dream was shattered.” She said she overcame many of these barriers upon attaining citizenship, but her friends and family with undocumented or immigrant status still face them.
There are 2.4 million undocumented youth in the United States like Nadia, who could benefit from policies like the Dream Act. While there weren’t many of the Dreamers on Wednesday’s stage, you didn’t have to go far to find a group of college-age students sporting t-shirts and signs saying “united we dream,” “immigration reform, dreamer’s moms” or similar slogans. The strong presence of youth at the rally highlights the importance of youth to the immigration reform movement.
This isn’t just something that would solely benefit undocumented youth and their supporters. Reforming immigration policies to remove barriers to upward mobility for undocumented immigrants, youth especially, will benefit the nation as a whole. Nadia said one of the barriers faced by immigrant millennials is receiving a work visa after college. She said that this means many remain undocumented and then cannot fully contribute to innovation to drive the United States and its millennial generation forward.
Expanding green card availability is one of the important parts of of the proposed immigration reform bill. Currently just above 10 percent of migrants on student visas are able to obtain a green card after completing their studies, which means the United States is losing the talents of untold numbers of innovators and professionals who are U.S.-trained foreign students. This means the fact that China long ago surpassed the U.S. in patent production should come as no surprise.
Nadia and the Dreamers at the April 10 rally show that immigration is not only a human rights issue. The U.S. cannot compete globally and offer a productive future for millennial America unless it allows Nadia and 11 million other immigrants to become full participants in our economic system. “Young people need to be involved [in immigration reform] because it is our future,” Nadia said.