Over the weekend, I was listening to NPR’s TED Radio Hour with Guy Raz and it featured a rebroadcast of a TED Talk given in September by NALP (New American Leaders Project) President and Scholar, Sayu Bhojwani entitled, “How Immigrant Voices Make Democracy Stronger”. As I listened, I paused at a question asked by Guy, “Do you think that we’re at a moment in history where democracy and the democratic system as we know it in the West is being challenged?”

Personally, I believe democracy as we know it today exists because it is inherently based on a challenge – a challenge of the status quo in government. If our founding fathers had not challenged the existing system, we would still be owing allegiance to King (or Queen) and country. What is important at this moment is the recognition that our form of democracy, which sees immigration as a freedom of expression and one that protects and encourages immigration, is under threat. It is threatened by fundamentalist forces that have hijacked a popular resentment with the establishment, to wage war against immigrants. Dissatisfaction with Washington should not be viewed as permission to abuse our obligation towards people who, as a matter of choice[1], have sought out this country.

What I find imbalanced is the fact that highly skilled workers who are here to help our country – create better products, offer better services, remain competitive and excel at what we do – receive little or no benefit from the immigration system. For instance, highly skilled workers and advanced degree professionals from India have to wait an eternity (12-25 years or longer) before being able to get certain basic rights to participate in the democratic system. Meanwhile, they toil hard and endlessly; paying into the social security system and being part of our everyday lives, without any hope of ever benefitting from the system.

It is fundamentally un-American to force new immigrants, especially those that are here to better our lives, to languish in a bureaucratic morass. As immigrants start to engage in the political process (as witnessed by the thousands of Latino and Asian-American immigrants who will be casting their ballot this election cycle), we should see more engagement and hopefully a hint at a challenge to the status quo on immigration reform!

[1] And those that don’t, but yet we have always sought them out:

“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!”