As an intern at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) this summer, a big issue that our office works on is nationwide immigration services and reform. While immigration has taken a backseat in the President’s agenda to health care in recent times, it is interesting to watch minority groups and communities struggling with immigration law mobilizing here in Washington.
Listening to many of the narratives of immigrants currently unable to get their foot into the door of the ‘American Dream’ led me on a personal journey of reflection about the greatness of America and its values. I was curious and in some instances, shocked, to discover exactly what part of the American Dream motivated certain individuals to sacrifice their family, friends, livelihood, and even health to enter the states. There were no clear cut answers, except for the firm look of determination within each of their eyes that symbolized their unwavering commitment to staying in America.
The issue that I have with the concept of the American Dream, and the reason why I believe this concept must evolve, is that the idea has disappointed, and will continue to disappoint, thousands of immigrants who will be unable to succeed in America due to its immigration laws. With the political gridlock regarding the controversial issue and reluctance on both sides of the aisle to reach a compromise, immigrant families without permanent documentation will wrestle with an uncertain fate that lie in the hands of stakeholders.
To avoid this situation, the American Dream needs to be redefined as a notion that began in the United States in 1776 but a universal dream that any country and its people can achieve. Stripped to its bare bones, the American Dream refers to the economic prosperity and high quality of life we enjoy here in America. But these values are not unique to the USA – while they are most prevalent here, that does not mean that it can take form anywhere else in the global community.
President Obama has stressed the moral underpinnings of his health care initiative with a reference to scripture: “I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper – that we have an obligation to put ourselves in our neighbor’s shoes and see each other’s common humanity.” But this reference is also relevant to immigration – everyone, regardless of nationality, merit involvement into our common humanity. Our privilege as being the world’s premier superpower should incentivize us to spread this dream to other parts of the globe with the audacity of hope that it will also aid in the immigration issue domestically. It’s time for the American Dream and all its core features to be rebranded into the Universal Dream that anyone with a willing heart and strong work ethic can achieve.