International students like me make up roughly 20 percent of the NYU student body, and we have to jump through many hoops while studying here. Most international students I know don’t receive much, if anything, by way of financial aid, and we have far less institutional support than our U.S. passport-holding classmates. Between fewer aid opportunities, streams of documentation and extra hassles at U.S. borders, the international community is a hardy bunch, willing to put up with the extra trouble and red tape because we think an American education is worth it.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer and lead actor of a new musical on the life of immigrant Alexander Hamilton, said in an interview that the term immigrant is “used as a dirty word by politicians to get cheap political points.” One way of recognizing the contributions immigrant students provide the U.S. would be to give them a green card along with their diploma, allowing them to stay here when their visas expire. The debate around immigrants has been going on since this nation was founded and shows all the signs of being a central tenet in the 2016 presidential election. Bernie Sanders has promised green cards for international STEM majors; the other candidates should adopt a similar platform, and expand it to all majors, not just those who major in a math or a science.
Rather than allowing the conversation around immigration to be dominated by fear-mongering, this country should try to understand why so many people choose to come here. Immigrants have long had an influence on U.S. politics — from first secretary of the treasury Alexander Hamilton to the families of presidents Andrew Jackson and John F. Kennedy. Lost in the contemporary rhetoric of border walls and illegal aliens are stats that show immigrants actually create jobs and pay considerable amounts in tax. Even just at NYU, we give landlords monthly checks and pay the school’s astronomical tuition, which goes toward American salaries. If allowed to stay on after graduating, we could continue to support local businesses as we join the workforce as doctors, lawyers, journalists and businesspeople. In doing so, we directly benefit a country that isn’t ours, and while here we’re not working to the benefit of our home countries. The choice to do so isn’t easy, and is rarely acknowledged by pundits or politicians alike.
For almost the entirety of its existence, the United States has been a place people around the world look toward for a chance to make a better life. By and large, people born here don’t recognize the enormous contributions immigrants make to American society. It’s time to stop demonizing immigrants and acknowledge that this country benefits from our participation.
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