Mine is the story of many who proudly call America home.
I was born in Haiti and migrated to the U.S. when I was eight years old. My brother, sister, and I were able to enter the country legally because my mother and father made a tough decision no parent wants to have to make. Having secured legal papers for the two of them to enter the United States, they moved to America and left their three children behind because they did not have legal documents for us.
When they left, I was four, my brother was nine, and my sister was just a newborn – one year old. For four years, my parents navigated legal red tape to secure legal immigration status for their children and saved money to one day send for us. That is a long time to be without parents.
We lived with my grandmother in Lazile and were cared for by a host of relatives who lived in the same small town. My parents, who were teachers in Haiti, took jobs as factory workers in New York City and adjusted to life in the Big Apple with limited English proficiency. Money was tight so there was only one visit from my mother during the four years we were separated.
There are backlogs in the family-sponsored immigration system today and that was also the case 35 years ago.
I can tell you that time apart during my formidable years took its toll. But I am grateful to my parents for making the difficult choices then and going through the long process to bring my siblings and me into the country legally.
As a U.S. citizen today, I feel it is past time we reform and modernize our immigration system in order to keep families together and reunite others. I am proud to be an American and I’m thrilled that President Obama has made immigration a top priority. It is clear there is a resolve across the country to act now to create a fair, streamlined legal system that lives up to our values and heritage as a nation of immigrants.
My parents made the choices they did in search of a better future for their children. Isn’t that the story of every American? Isn’t better opportunity still what we all want?
Opportunity is a two way street. My siblings and I worked hard in school and earned advanced degrees (two master’s and a doctoral degree). Today, we are contributing to the economy in careers we enjoy.
When I was growing up, I would hear my father say that he was happy to pay taxes because he received access to vital services in return. That was not the case at the time in his homeland. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that sentiment is probably shared by most people who immigrate to the U.S. – no matter how they got here. I know that is true for immigrants from the Caribbean.
Data shows that Caribbean Americans who migrate to the U.S. learn English, become citizens, attend college, work, and start businesses. These immigrants are entrepreneurs, executives in Fortune 500 companies, and are excelling in STEM careers.
Their goal was never just to get their foot in the door. Like the millions of the huddled masses from around the world that flock to these shores, the objective has always been to keep your head down, strive for excellence always, and work harder than everyone to realize the American Dream.
In January, President Obama said: “[W]e’ve got to bring our legal immigration system into the 21st century… if you are a citizen, you shouldn’t have to wait years before your family is able to join you in America… If you’re a foreign student who wants to pursue a career in science or technology, or a foreign entrepreneur who wants to start a business with the backing of American investors, we should help you do that here. Because if you succeed, you’ll create American businesses and American jobs. You’ll help us grow our economy. You’ll help us strengthen our middle class.”
He is right because that is my story. I could be in Haiti now on a very different path if I never had access to the resources here in the United States. But instead, I am a communications professional with a Master of Arts degree who is proud to be part of America’s middle class.
I wish the process had been more simple and efficient when I was four years old, but I am glad we are trying to get it right now so that families can be reunited in a timely and humane manner. I don’t want young girls to get separated from their parents in the quest for a better quality of life.
The time is now. We have the resolve. Make immigration reform a reality!
Follow Cleve Mesidor on Twitter at @Cmesi.