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Friday, April 19, 2013

Maria Lopez: Finally, there’s light at end
of tunnel for achieving immigration reform

The stars are finally aligning on immigration reform. Both sides of the aisle are starting to see eye-to-eye, and it appears as though some progress could come our way very soon. It is about time for change to happen – our immigration system has been broken for too long. Year after year, politicians have chosen to ignore the problem, compounding it further and making it harder and harder to fix. Finally, a light appears to be forming at the end of the tunnel.

My parents brought me to this country when I was young. It has been frustrating to watch the partisan bickering through the years. I have been an advocate for immigration reform as long as I can remember and have seen firsthand, every day, the contributions that immigrants make to this country. They are members of our churches, they attend our schools and volunteer in our communities. And, they play a vital role in almost every realm of our economy. Without immigrants and the children of immigrants, our country would be unrecognizable from what it is now.

Immigrants come to America in search of a better life. They come here in pursuit of the American dream. They work hard and more often than not are successful in fulfilling their goals. A recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE) found that over 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants or the children of immigrants. And immigrants are twice as likely as native-born citizens to start a company in the United States.

The children of immigrants are often hurt the most by our misguided and outdated laws, yet they arguably have the most to offer our country. We have far too many undocumented children, living in limbo – not technically citizens but still attending our schools, joining the neighborhood soccer team, and becoming best friends with their native-born peers.

These children, at no fault of their own, grow up with the emotional burden of not quite knowing where they belong. But these immigrant children want to stay in the United States to live and grow and remain productive members of their communities. They have oftentimes watched their parents struggle and make sacrifices for their future. They want to pay it forward by becoming the successful Americans their parents always envisioned. These children have so much to offer our country.

The same study by PNAE found that incentivizing these immigrant children (often referred to as DREAMers) to pursue college and allowing them to work here legally will add 1.4 million jobs and generate $329 billion in economic activity nationally over the next 20 years. This is a win-win scenario in every aspect; the DREAMers finally gain a sense of belonging, while at the same time make significant contributions to the economy.

I have watched the immigration debate develop for years and have watched it disintegrate before my eyes too many times. But this year is different. This year the debate has been intellectual and insightful. All parties have come to the table open to discussion with a real desire to make change happen. It is finally time to reach an agreement to better our country and I stand united with those in Congress working hard to further this issue.

You can help join this fight as well. This spring, a major grassroots effort will take place all over the country to encourage our leaders to finally enact change. Using the vast technology at our fingertips, we can all unite on one day, from all across the country and send a message to Congress that now is the time for action. You can click here for more information on how to get involved. The more of us that do, the more likely we are to see reform finally take place and allow us to move forward as a nation.

Maria Lopez is a University of Louisville student and co-founder of the Kentucky Dream Coalition.