This year I had the opportunity to participate in the Aspen Institute Socrates Seminar on immigration. I’m thankful for the experience. This was an amazing opportunity that challenged me to think in new ways about a field that I am deeply familiar with and passionate about. I was fortunate to meet immigration leaders from across the nation with myriad perspectives on the issues and possible solutions and was honored to have the opportunity to step up as a teacher.
On my way to Aspen, I remember reading through the introductory materials. I was feeling down and overwhelmed by the tragic stories we hear every day about immigration, both in the news and in my practice: Children separated from their parents. Individuals denied asylum and then murdered after being deported. Families struggling to remain together. Parents who want to give opportunities to their children. Entrepreneurs who want to change the world. U.S. businesses struggling to hire workers. The list goes on.
As I headed to Aspen, I worried that the discussions would be contentious and any proposed solutions would be unable to make a difference.
When the program began, our amazing moderator, Maria Hinojosa, host of NPR’s Latino USA, asked us to introduce ourselves and explain how we fit in with immigration. I expected everyone to keep their guard up and their armor on. Instead, everyone opened up.
I told my story about how I have immigration in my blood: My dad was an immigration lawyer, and my mom is an immigrant from Germany. I grew up seeing my mom’s grit and perseverance. She learned a new language, a new culture, sought higher education and became a well-respected professional. I saw my dad’s courage fighting injustices every day. He told amazing and inspiring stories every night about keeping families together and helping people who want to lead the future.
The participants came from diverse backgrounds and a broad variety of political leanings. Our group included leaders from business, nonprofits, education, politics, and media. However, everyone agreed that the U.S. immigration system is completely broken.
We began brainstorming ideas for concrete actions that would help fix the immigration system. Donate money. Volunteer. Serve as an interpreter. Although these are important things to do, we wanted to think about how to change the system at a deeper level.
Our immigration system is so multifaceted and complex, so of course, solutions weren’t forthcoming. To help propel our discussion forward, I prepared a three-page overview of the current U.S. immigration framework, including the players, the various immigration statuses, and the typical routes for individuals to reach those statuses. That happened right before I had the amazing opportunity to attend Associate Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s talk and meet the justice himself.
I felt honored when Hinojosa asked me to share my immigration overview with our group. In the end, we realized we would need several more days to hash out immigration policy solutions.
By the end of the program, I felt inspired and empowered to push for changes together with others. I’m now mentoring individuals and providing legal and policy guidance on immigration matters to leaders in Washington, D.C. What’s more, I’m in talks with a major media group about providing on-air commentary on immigration issues. Before we can create a better immigration system, we need to understand what we’re currently working with. We need to decide as a society what we value. We need to decide how we want to treat people so we can create something new.
Send me an email or let me know in a comment below what changes you’d most like to see in the U.S. immigration system. What do you think U.S. immigration laws should include?