“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
We all know the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty well. We all know the story of our country, The United States of America, a melting pot, a nation of immigrants who come here for a better life and achieve “The American Dream.” We know that story. We see Lady Liberty holding her shining torch of freedom and opportunity and we are thankful to live here; to be born here. That is the story we want to believe about our new immigrants. “Congratulations. You made it. You’re lucky to be here. Now go get your “American Dream” and be thankful you’re here.” We forget the reality.
We forget that self-made man is a myth. We forget that everyone needs help. We forget that entering a new country, one that likely not only has a very different language, but also a very different culture, is hard. We forget that our new immigrants, while probably very happy to be here, do not wish to simply abandon their cultures. We forget that acclimation takes time.
Homeland, a documentary on immigration produced by the Nine Network for PBS, highlights this fact in one of its vignettes. Karzan Bahaaldin and his wife, Pina, are among those immigrants who find life harder in the United States. In Iraq, Karzan worked as a civil engineer and his wife worked as a math teacher. Now the 36 year-old works the front desk of a downtown St. Louis hotel, while she cleans the rooms. The Bahaaldins are not alone. They are among 1.3 million immigrants currently living in the United States who are grossly underemployed, often simply because of credentialing issues. This is not acceptable. We are a country of immigrants. We are a country of opportunity. Why are we keeping our immigrants from serving this nation in their area of expertise? Why do we deny ourselves their talents?
When Homeland airs this summer, it will explore this issue along with many other aspects of the immigration debate currently underway in the United States. It is time for us to join this conversation and discuss how we can help our new immigrants, and our communities, by ensuring these valuable new additions to our community are able to share their talents.
What support do you believe should be offered to immigrants? How can we help immigrants find jobs they are properly qualified for, and prevent their being stuck in underemployment where their talents cannot shine?