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Reforming the Immigration System is Common Sense

Ximena Hartsock, Phone2Action

As we turn the corner on another year, I reflect on my experiences as an immigrant in the U.S. The opportunities this wonderful country has given me are countless, and I understand why so many others like me want to stay here. With the push for common-sense, immigration reform growing, it’s more important than ever for immigrants to share our experiences. We have to show—and tell—the world why we need change, and what it ought to look like. 

Here is my story. 

I was born in Santiago, Chile and came to the U.S. inspired by the American Dream stories I have heard. Dealing with the immigration process was not easy but I was fortunate to be granted residency here after years of contributions and hard work. Last year with two brilliant Americans I co-founded a digital grassroots advocacy company to help people advance social causes. Phone2Action has been growing quickly and people have been using our tools on all kinds of issues, but it’s always exciting to me when I see people using our tools to make progress on issues that are so personally close to home, like immigration reform. 

Founding Phone2Action has given me another perspective on this issue, letting me see the impact of our broken immigration system from a different side. 

I’ve learned that hiring non-native, U.S.-based talent is incredibly hard, time consuming and expensive. On the other hand, it is very easy to outsource work overseas. This makes no sense, and we should be allowed to offer jobs to people who live in the U.S. and want to stay in the U.S. While the U.S. maintains this broken immigration system—the rest of the world is doing the opposite. A great example is my native country Chile, which has totally revamped its immigration system and created programs such as Startup Chile, which is making it easy for entrepreneurs from across the world to innovate there. Similarly, countries across the world have aggressive policies to attract talent from overseas. 

And I’ve seen immigrants drive innovation: not only have a number of studies in the U.S. and overseas  identified a positive link between the presence of immigrants and the level of innovation but also, I’ve met dozens of foreign-born entrepreneurs doing exciting things and helping build and reshape our nation’s economy. Critics of immigration worry that the reforms would hurt Americans. Innovation is good for everyone because it brings competition and diversity of thinking. My two cofounders and I are very different but our diversity creates a positive dynamic that allows us to see different angles of a problem. Ultimately, our differences make our company unique and stronger. 

Finally, we face a real challenge to fill jobs in new areas of development, areas where unfortunately the preparation of our American youth still behind. Despite of what anyone says, if you are an entrepreneur in a technology-related field, the number one asset and biggest challenge you have is to identify and recruit talent in the U.S. Supporting immigration reform can only help. A study by Kerr and Lincoln (2010) estimates that immigrants account for a majority of the net increase in the U.S. STEM workforce since 1995. The bottom line is that our broken immigration system is sending a message that innovation is not welcome in America. While the rest of the world welcomes international talent here in America we push great talent away. 

We’re a country of innovators and problem solvers, and we’re stronger when the entire country unites to face threats together. Fixing our immigration system will send a message to the world that U.S. remains the country that doesn’t embrace the status quo, but rather is a country of disruptors and innovators that replaces policies that make no sense.