When my parents used all their savings to send me across the oceans from India at the age of sixteen, they made the ultimate sacrifice of separating from their child without knowing if we would ever live on the same continent again. They did so because they believed America was where I would get the best education and have the most opportunity. It took me seventeen years—involving an alphabet soup of visas and the abiding fear that I might not be able to stay in my new home—to get my US citizenship, in 2000. That was a teary and complex moment. Surrounded by people from all over the world, with hands over our hearts, we pledged allegiance to our new country. We knew we were the lucky ones and we were grateful, even as we felt our loss in saying good-bye to the families and countries we had left behind.
Just a year later, in the wake of September 11, I went on to found and lead what became the largest immigrant advocacy organization in Washington state. We organized tens of thousands of immigrants, faith leaders, labor unions, and businesses, engaging in a national conversation on immigration, identity, and the need to reform our outdated laws. Today, more than three decades since I arrived in America, I have the privilege of serving as the first South Asian-American woman in the House of Representatives, and I am one of only twelve members of the 115th Congress who are proud naturalized citizens.
I have become intimately familiar with the policy and the politics of immigration, and I am deeply troubled by the widening divide between the inherent complexity of immigration laws and the simplistic, generally punitive rhetoric that aims to criminalize migration. Through my work, I have met many new Americans and am constantly amazed at the sheer diversity of how they came here and what they end up doing—as farmworkers, doctors, caregivers, entrepreneurs, or researchers. Their stories add to the long tapestry of this uniquely American experience, one that is central to our national identity.
[For more on this story by Pramila Jayapal, go to https://www.nybooks.com/daily/...tion-on-immigration/]