Anoushka Chander, Georgetown Day High School
Photography by Audrey Cibel, Stoneridge High School

One journey to American citizenship, across generations. (Published: 2019)

The year was 1969. My maternal grandparents had just moved from India to New York as “exchange visitors” in order to finish their medical training and residency. My grandmother, who was training to be a physician, and my grandfather, who was studying to be a cardiologist, were both sponsored by their jobs to stay in the US for no more than five years. As newlyweds, their initial plan was to get their degrees in the US and then return to India to work. But in two years, after they finished their residencies, the US Congress had made it easier for people in their situation to stay in the country on “green card” visas. A green card visa is an official immigration status that allows you to live and work in the US permanently while maintaining citizenship in another country.

By the time they were offered green cards, my mother had been born, so my grandparents thought it would be nice to stay a little longer. As doctors, they could practice medicine and make more money here than in India, so they applied for and received their green card visas in less than six months. Once they had their green card status, they moved to New Jersey and settled down to raise my mother and uncle in a small town. They didn’t want to go back to India, so with encouragement from their parents, they applied for citizenship and became naturalized citizens of the United States.

They were truly living the American Dream, but it didn’t feel like home yet, because they were still alone. They missed the rest of their family and they wanted my mother and uncle to grow up surrounded by cousins and uncles and aunts.

Before 1965, there were quotas in place that dictated how many people could immigrate from certain countries each year; the quota for India was fifty people. However, the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act granted equal access for people of all countries to come to the United States. It also provided an easy way for settled immigrants with green cards or full citizenship to bring their families over to America to live as their dependents. This law was put in place because there was a need for highly educated, job seeking immigrants, not to increase the diversity of the American population. Soon, there was a huge influx of immigrants coming to this country.

Because of the immigration act, my grandparents were able to sponsor almost all of their siblings so that my entire family could enjoy what America had to offer. My grandfather sponsored all of his siblings to come. My grandmother did the same, and was financially and socially responsible for some of her siblings until they could attain citizenship. When my mom was twelve, my grandmother’s sister and her family came to live with them. Then, my grandmother and grandfather brought their parents to the US. It took twelve full years for my entire family to get to America, but when they were all here, it finally felt like home.

My grandparents were the first in my family to come to the US. Because of the helpful laws in place, they were able to bring their family to live near them. When I talked to my grandmother about this part of her life (my grandfather passed away a few years ago) she said that the government made it really easy for people like them to obtain the necessary visas. Having her parents and siblings in the same country as she raised her children helped her adjust to living in a whole new country. She noted the contrast with our immigration system now, say ing “Over the past few years, it has gotten much more difficult for people from around the world to come over to the US.”

The majority of Indian Americans in the United States are here because they were sponsored by prior relatives. Today, this process, labeled “chain migration” by its opponents, is under scrutiny by the current administration. I prefer the term “family reunification.”

Despite its muddled history of quotas for specific areas, especially countries in Asia, America has been seen as the world leader in immigration in the past. It not only has encouraged people to resettle here for jobs, but has also provided immigrants the means needed to make America their home. Now, “immigration” has become a dirty word. The Trump administration uses fear mongering to stoke concerns about immigration letting terrorists into the United States. Terms like “extreme vetting” have become part of mainstream culture. People argue that if immigrants keep bringing over their families, the system will not be based on merit and skill level. Instead, they are proponents of an immigration system that values only newcomers with certain skill sets, like English fluency and advanced degrees.

Around 50% of all foreign born immigrants that have come to the US since 2010 have college degrees, which is more than the 30% of native born people with college degrees. David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. says, “The least known fact about legal immigration to the U.S. is that it’s much more educated than the general U.S. population” (“One Face of Immigration in America Is a Family Tree Rooted in Asia” by Miriam Jordan and Sabrina Tavernise, The New York Times, 2018).

Previously, decades of legal immigration were viewed as a positive for our country, but under the slogan “Buy American and Hire American”, the Trump Administration will force the number of legal immigrants to decline (“One Face of Immigration in America Is a Family Tree Rooted in Asia” by Miriam Jordan and Sabrina Tavernise, The New York Times, 2018).

They have already implemented policy changes that cut back on legal immigration, such as heightening inspections of people applying for a high skilled workers visa (H1B), making it harder to obtain a permanent citizenship, and lowering the number of refugees we allow into our country.

Currently, before any major legislation has been passed, American residents can sponsor their immediate family, but green card holders can sponsor only minor children and unmarried adult children.

With Trump’s proposal, American residents will only be able to sponsor their minor children and spouses, and green card holders will only be able to sponsor their minor children. In the next decade, the administration is looking to cut the number of green cards from a million annually to half that number (“Explaining ‘Chain Migration’” by John Burnett, NPR, 2018).

The story of how my family came to America is an example of how beneficial family reunification is.

All my relatives are hardworking, proud Americans who contribute to society as doctors, lawyers, professors, and entrepreneurs.

As a child of Indian descent, I’ve been blessed to grow up in this country surrounded by family. It is what makes America my home.