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Chain migration: The American way

  • Published at 11:35 am December 16th, 2017
  • Last updated at 07:33 am December 17th, 2017
Chain migration: The American way
Monday’s bombing attempt in New York renewed calls to curb immigration -- this time so-called chain migration, whereby US citizens can sponsor their siblings, who then sponsor their children. Akayed Ullah, charged with attempting the act of mass violence, was one beneficiary of the process; his uncle came to the US on a diversity visa from Bangladesh, paving the way for Ullah’s immigration six years ago. With the right-wing media spreading fear, I feel compelled to share my own story. It affirms the value of much-demeaned and misunderstood chain migration. My family emigrated from Bangladesh in the 1970s after my father received a scholarship to study engineering at the University of Michigan. He brought over my mother, brother, and me within a year, and they went on to have two more American-born sons. In 1978, when my father was close to being awarded his PhD, Bechtel offered him a job and the most valuable thing: Sponsorship for permanent residency. That was a recession year, and the prospect of a job and the golden green card were definitely better than schlepping through a dissertation that may or may not lead to employment. But we had no idea how it would turn out for our immediate family, nor how it would change the fates of our extended family. My parents went on to achieve the American Dream, prioritising their children’s education and opportunity over their personal comfort and convenience. My father worked at the same job for more than 20 years, driving an hour each way to work so his children could live in a better school district, and then took out a second mortgage to send a son to Phillips Exeter Academy. My mother, with her soft English, approached her congressman to request a nomination for her eldest son to the US Air Force Academy at a time when the military was the last place that most immigrants planned for their children. She insisted that we give back to this country that had given us so much. Their children -- my siblings and I -- went on to attend the best public institutions and Ivy League colleges. We became a doctor, engineer/investment banker, lawyer, and a colonel in the Pentagon.
Contrary to the popular perception, immigration is not an easy endeavour, no matter the route
My father helped found our local mosque and believed in interfaith tolerance. My mother demanded we serve others as a form of worshiping God. They did all this while sponsoring 10 of their own siblings, who went on to sponsor 23 children. The process took more than a decade from the time my parents became citizens themselves. Contrary to the popular perception, immigration is not an easy endeavour, no matter the route. My father had to provide affidavits of financial support for each and every person who came here, to attest that they would not become burdens on the state. And true to his word, our upper-middle-class life was turned a bit upside down when our relatives started arriving. My mother had the added responsibility of feeding and housing them and driving them around, while my father helped them find jobs, learn to drive, or register for school or do whatever was necessary to settle into their new lives. It wasn’t a simple thing for our relatives either, most of whom emigrated mid-life for better opportunities for their children, knowing that their own lifestyles would change irrevocably. Professionals took on odd jobs while others, especially the women, began paid work for the first time in their lives. The process of assimilation was hard, but not much different than that of other immigrants from other lands. Now our cousins have become doctors and engineers, work at Google, attend school, and have become part of the fabric of America. This is what chain migration looks like -- not in the fever dream of the president, but in reality, passing on the American Dream to future generations. After 9/11, I was invited to speak to young Bangladeshi-Americans in Brooklyn about career options. Some questioned why they should become lawyers when they felt the system was against Muslims. I answered that if America did not keep its immigrants integrated, we risked alienating them like in Europe. People of goodwill must preserve America’s immigrant legacy. Even as we hold those who wish us harm accountable under our rule of law, we must remain that last beacon of hope for those willing to strive for a better life. Moushumi Khan is a board member of the Interfaith Center of New York. She was one of the founders of the Muslim Bar Association of New York and is currently the country director of the Foundation for Charitable Activities in Bangladesh. This article previously appeared in The New York Daily News. 
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