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US a nation of opportunity – for some

Last week, a very good friend of mine became an American citizen. She’s been living in the United States for almost a decade, since she moved here in high school. Last Tuesday, I watched her swear an oath to her new country, and it really got me thinking: In order to obtain the same rights I have, she has sworn to forfeit her past citizenship, defend the U.S. (including serve in the armed forces if called upon), and that she will be an active and participatory citizen. Now, my memories of the day I was born are a little fuzzy, but I do not recall making such an oath.

I was lucky enough to be born in the U.S., and as a result, I get all sorts of perks. There are countries I can travel to without a visa, I can vote, and I’m not in any danger of getting booted out of the country I’ve lived in my whole life because of a flaw in my paperwork. There are millions of people in this country who are not lucky enough to say the same for themselves.

Obviously, American citizenship is not the only way to enjoy freedom, and I’m sure the citizens of most industrialized countries would be insulted if I were to claim otherwise. But there are countries whose citizens are not afforded the basic rights that American citizens are, like the rights to elect their government or speak freely.

And so millions of people, from third world countries as well as industrialized countries, enter the U.S. every year to become legal permanent residents or to study and work within our borders. All of these people recognize that the U.S. offers something that their home nations do not, whether it is civil liberties, a better education, or a particular job. They see something in this country that inspires them to leave their homes and families (something that’s hard to do, even when you’re just moving two states away for college, as I did) and seek something here.

Every year, however, millions more are turned away, denied their green cards and visas and told, though not in so many words, that their dreams and ambitions are not as worthy as someone else’s. At the end of 2003, for example, more than 5 million immigrant petitions were still pending, while just more than one million were accepted, according to a Congressional Research Service report from February 2004.

This country offers so much to its citizens and always has. The promise of opportunity in America has drawn immigrants for hundreds of years. So why are we surprised when people bypass our long, drawn-out immigration process, which ends in failure more often than not, and enter our country without visas or green cards, or stay past the expiration of their visas?

There are so many honest, hardworking people who try to do the best thing for themselves and for their families by moving to this country — a country made great by immigrants and the descendents of immigrants. We should open our arms and our borders to the people who value our country enough to risk everything to come here, and who see our country for the land of opportunity it is. To turn down immigrants is to deny our country fresh ideas and new perspectives, and to dishonor our immigrant ancestors.

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