Wall Street Journal (Op-Ed)
By Onuora Amobi
June 29, 2015
It’s 1990 in Lagos, Nigeria. My mom is packing up food, water, soap, toothpaste and an extra set of clothes for us. I’m 17 years old and can’t wait to get on the road. Where are we headed? Vacation? A trip to visit family or friends? Nope. We’re headed to the American Embassy.
Back then, you had to drive to the embassy the night before and camp out because of the long lines of people wanting to get in—nearly all of them hoping to get a visa to go to the U.S. I remember listening to people share their stories about how they would get a visa, go to America and become successful. Statistically, most of those people would get denied by the consulate but hey, dreaming never hurt anyone. Then I slept in the car.
The next morning I washed my face and brushed my teeth outside the car at around 6 a.m. We stood in line and waited two hours for the embassy to open. It was a thrill to file past the Marines at the gate and arrive inside the embassy, my first time, technically, on American soil.
I’ll never forget the picture on the embassy wall of a cowboy on horseback, swinging a lasso overhead, the color photograph of then-President George H.W. Bush, and the faces of the consular staff doing their jobs—polite, efficient, formal but friendly.
That was 25 years ago. Today I’m an American citizen, I have a college degree and I’m the CEO of a tech company in California. I guess you could say I’m living proof that the American dream is alive and well. But it didn’t happen overnight. In fact, over 16 years passed from my first day in the U.S. to my swearing-in ceremony. Why? Because I chose to do everything legally.
Here’s what got me to this point: I got an F-1 visa and went to college in Philadelphia. I graduated, got a job and got an OPT (Optional Practical Training) visa extension. After that I got an H-1B visa and worked for a bunch of companies. Then I got a green card (via an employer) and worked some more. Approximately five years later, I was sworn in as a U.S. citizen.
My story is no better or worse than millions of other immigrants who come to America every day, legally. People who start their journey by praying that the American consular official issuing visas that day didn’t have a fight with his wife the night before. People who upon getting here work their butts off, remembering every day how blessed they are. People who try hard to graduate from college, then hope and pray that an employer sponsors them for an H-1B visa and then a green card.
At the end of this long journey, as a proud U.S. citizen and voter, how can I look the other way when others cross the border illegally and expect to stay in this great county? I have compassion for every man, woman or child fleeing persecution or poverty or simply seeking a better life. But I also have two questions: Why are they better than all the people from my country who slept in their cars outside the American Embassy that night 25 years ago? Why are they better than all the people in other countries who want to live here?
As a Democrat, I am glad that Republicans are against blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants because I am too. You see, I value immigration from Mexico and Guatemala and every part of South America. I simply don’t value it more than immigration from all the other countries, including my native Nigeria. What a lot of well-intentioned people fail to see is that for legal immigrants, supporting amnesty would be almost an act of betrayal. It would be us disrespecting every other potential immigrant from our home country that wasn’t lucky enough to make it to America.
I appreciate exactly how fortunate I am to have become an American. I would love to have as many people as possible from all over the world make it here as well. I’m not a racist or a bigot. I’m just an American who wants immigration to begin in the proper place—at an embassy.
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