Brave Innovators Deserve Freedom: The Moral Need for Immigration Reform

Adapted with permission from an article by Jason Crawford

Anand and Shikha Chhatpar launched three successful tech companies in America between 2001 and 2008. Both came to America as students, studying at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, before beginning their careers. Due to America’s restrictive immigration laws, they were required to return to India for a legally mandated period of time before applying for citizenship in the United States. Despite the fact that they owned multiple companies in the U.S., employed U.S. citizens, and paid taxes here, the Chhatpars’ application for a visa was denied. As a result, they jettisoned their U.S. employees and returned to India, where they began developing products for the Indian market because they feared that they would be unable to return to the U.S., where they preferred to live and work.

In their 2012 book entitled The Immigrant Exodus, Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever detail the plight of immigrants attempting to come to the U.S. and the toll that our restrictive immigration laws are taking on the U.S. economy. They note that the Chhatpars’ story is not unique and that immigrants who would otherwise innovate and improve the U.S. economy are now coming to the U.S. to study and then leaving because of our restrictive immigration laws, to the benefit of their native country’s economy—a phenomenon they call “reverse brain drain.”

They are correct: it is a frequently neglected fact that immigrants are often innovators and job-creators. As President Obama and House Republicans have recently acknowledged, highly skilled immigrants are a potential boon to our economy. But there is more that can be said—that must be said—in favor of open immigration.

Every immigrant is a human being with unalienable individual rights. Typically, each wants to come to America to pursue a better life. The immigrant’s goals might be to teach at one of the world’s best universities, to work at one of the world’s best companies, or simply to live a better life in a relatively free, prosperous country. And there have been many people, who have fulfilled their goals by immigrating to this country. Among the many whose names have become iconic are: Alexander Graham Bell, William Procter, Marcus Goldman, William Colgate, E. I. du Pont. Albert Einstein and Charles Pfizer.

We take those goals and we bury them under a mountain of paperwork. We take dreams and we put them on years-long waiting lists. We take futures and subject them to arbitrary caps and quotas.

By what right? By what standard? There is no other form of bigotry in this country still practiced, still institutionalized against so many people. If we had special work permits just for women, it would be denounced as sexism. If we had caps or quotas on the number of blacks living in the country, it would be denounced as racism. But in the name of the misguided notion that government ought to protect the interests of some workers over others we impose both of these on immigrants for no crime other than having been born abroad.

We should look at our immigration laws not merely as an economic inefficiency, but as a moral outrage. We should look at them with indignation and disgust.

Our nation was founded by those who believed in the right to the pursuit of happiness. One cannot celebrate that right without also thinking that the pursuit of happiness is also morally righteous. Anyone who cheers the sight of a great achievement, in science, in athletics, or in business, implicitly celebrates as a moral virtue the hard-headed tenacity required to bring one’s dreams into reality.

More than many others, immigrants must overcome the greatest odds to pursue their happiness. To bring their dreams into reality, they must travel thousands of miles from home, learn a new language, and prove themselves in opposition to prejudice. So, policies which make it much more difficult for immigrants to pursue happiness, to work hard, to achieve and to enjoy the benefits of their labor are morally wrong to the extent that they discourage virtuous people from moving to this country and fulfilling their dreams.

Restrictive immigration policies not only harm immigrants who choose to come to America; they also harm citizens who already live here. For every worker we keep out of the country, we hurt the company and the team he would have joined. For every teacher we block, we hurt the students whose lives he would have touched. For every artist we deny, we hurt all the fans who would have loved his work.

A moral economic system where people are free to immigrate, innovate and improve their own lives is also the kind of system where both immigrants and citizens benefit the most.

In the name of the individual right to pursue happiness, we should dismantle the entire bureaucracy of immigration restrictions. Open the doors. Let them in. Short of a threat to public safety, no immigrant should be denied entry to the US or residence here for any reason. Nothing less is morally conscionable.

Ask not what immigrants can do for our country. Ask: by what right, by what privilege, can anyone presume to keep them out?

Creative commons-licensed images from Wikimedia feature Albert Einstein, William Procter, James GambleEleuthère Irénée du Pont, Charles Pfizer, Alexander Graham Bell, and Marcus Goldman.

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