As of mid January, there were five immigration proposals before Congress; here they are gathered in one chart so we can easily compare them. If we could reduce all the arguments to a single question, it might be: How much immigration is good for America? I think most people agree that some amount of immigration is good for our country, and many would argue that some other amount is too much and is therefore bad for America. Where the political parties differ is in their estimate of how much immigration is the optimal amount, whom to allow in, and how to manage the system. They differ on quantity, quality, and control. However, across both sides of the aisle, there is one underlying agreement and unstated assumption: that immigration is good for the immigrant.
It is valid for Americans, acting in their own interest, to have a discussion about the quantity, quality, and control of our immigration system. And yet as an immigrant, I know that we also need to grapple with other questions that don’t normally take center stage in our public debates on immigration. I want to bring to the forefront a thought that may seem peculiar to many Americans: that immigration is not always an unqualified good. Through discussions with immigrants, I have found that in many cases, the answer is not yes; often it is a qualified yes, and it would help us all to understand why this might be the case.
Immigration can be a good. But it is good, healthy, and fruitful — for the immigrant and the adoptive country — only insofar as the émigré makes the choice freely. Some will argue that, by default, everyone who comes here (legally or illegally) chooses to do so, since the very act of coming here is an act of free will. I say no: It’s not necessarily a free choice.
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