More than any other nation in history, the United States has made itself a new home for immigrants in search of a better life. It embraces those who come to this country honestly—often with nothing more than their work ethic—in search of the promises and opportunities of the American Dream.
As a second-generation American, I think of this promise often. Each and every day, when I see my grandfather’s Ellis Island records hanging on my wall, I remember what he went through to come to this country. I remember how he left behind all he had ever known in Hungary to escape discrimination and the destruction left in the wake of World War I; how he gave up everything so that he could offer his children and grandchildren the promise of freedom and opportunity in a new land.
His story is not unique. Since our nation’s founding, millions of immigrants have come to our shores with a similar dream, each bringing with them new experiences and pieces of their cultures that together form part of what makes this nation great.
Over the past several decades, however, immigration policy has become confused, unfocused, and dysfunctional. America lacks a simple system to attract the qualified immigrants who can help our economy and contribute to our nation. Millions of unlawfully present immigrants are undermining America’s core principle of the rule of law, while the legal naturalization process isn’t working as well as it should. Large-scale immigration without effective assimilation threatens social cohesion, along with America’s civic culture and common identity. This is particularly true when immigrants are assimilated into the welfare state rather than into a society of opportunity.
It is high time for an immigration policy that serves immigrants and citizens alike. As an important part of this, we must find ways to reform our legal immigration system to create a process that is truly fair, orderly, and efficient. Indeed, currently there are close to 4.5 million individuals waiting in line to come to this country legally—and some have been waiting for as long as 24 years.
These numbers make one thing clear: America needs meaningful immigration reform. It must, however, be done in a deliberative and thoughtful manner. It must also seek to uphold the rule of law, welcome individuals through a legal framework, and discourage future flows of unlawful immigrants.
By recognizing these facts and beginning to work on solutions where we can all agree, we can rebuild an immigration process in harmony with our highest principles and best traditions.
Jessica Zuckerman is a policy analyst who works on national security issues at The Heritage Foundation. Her grandfather, Joseph (Jeno) Zuckerman, came to the United States on the S.S. Rotterdam in 1921.