One August morning many years ago, I found myself starry eyed and jet lagged at the Los Angeles International airport. In search of the American Dream, I had come halfway around the planet to pursue graduate studies in computer science, at the University of Southern California.
My earliest memories of the United States are of newfound friends asking me about the movie Slumdog Millionaire and arousing laughter when I referred to an eraser as a “rubber.” In about a year, America was no longer a foreign place but the country I called home, the nation I wanted to contribute to.
Little did I then know that the green pastures weren’t actually so green, at least not without a green-card. I would soon be on a work visa (H1), joining hands with over a million engineers, scientists and doctors living as a second class citizen, thanks to our broken immigration system.
I graduated with flying colors and applied for jobs across the country. After a rigorous interview process, I was offered a spot at a search engine company with an acceptance rate of less than 0.5%. Excited about working with the best engineers, I relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, and over the years have built a career as a software developer.
On the surface, I’ve created a good life and lived the American dream. But in reality, thanks to the immigration limbo and the endless wait for greencards, I live a different kind of life—the life of an indentured servant. I cannot change employers or quit my job (to start a startup or go back to school). And if I ever get fired, guess what? Leaving family, friends and everything else behind, I would be tossed out of the country, like an empty beer bottle tossed into the trash can.
Spouses of skilled immigrants face an even tougher life. Despite being well qualified, they cannot work or even have a credit card in their name. Denied every opportunity to be a productive citizen and struck within the four walls of the house, they often end up with low self esteem and depression.
I am an American at heart. Like any other patriotic American, I take great pride in an opportunity to serve my country. A few months after graduating from grad school, I had a chat with my local Army recruiter about volunteering in the Army Reserves. The recruiter was very excited about my skills—foreign languages and engineering prowess. When asked about my greencard, I said I was on a work-visa and waiting “in line” for a greencard. I vividly remember the instantaneous change on his face, from excitement to disappointment. It turned out that as an “Alien” (as though I am from Mars) I cannot serve my country. Even though I think of myself as an American and consider America my country, my country doesn’t think of me as one of its own.
In July 2013, the Senate passed an Immigration Reform bill that would allow immigrants, whether they mow our lawns or are the brains behind our hi-tech gadgets, to contribute to this country and cherish the American dream. By fully tapping into the potential of immigrants, we can shrink our deficit, jumpstart the economy, create jobs, and prevent reverse brain drain—American trained engineers forced by the immigration system to return to their native countries to compete against America.
Earlier this year, the House Republicans came up with some “broad standards” to reform our immigration laws. I was excited. Excited about the economic progress our country would make. Excited about transforming from an Alien to an American.
My happiness was short lived. Just days later, the House Republicans declared that they don’t plan to act on their plan, effectively killing immigration reform. Why exactly do the House Republicans think that maintaining status quo—millions contributing to an underground economy while the best and brightest are taken away by our competitors—is good policy?
Each day immigration reform is delayed, we lose jobs and dollars from our economy to our competitors. Both Democrats and Republicans agree on the importance of immigration reform to our economy. So it is time for our politicians to come together and do something for the good of the country—act on Immigration reform and give America the economic boost we’ve all been seeking.
Ash Murthy is a software engineer at Google, and a volunteer for FWD.US, an immigration advocacy group.