For now, immigration reform has died an inglorious death in the US Senate, beaten to death by John Cornyn, Republican from Texas, and others of his party who seem to think that behind every effort to facilitate the entry of foreigners seeking employment in this country, and to legalize the status of nearly 12 million hardworking immigrants already here, lurks an open invitation to criminals, terrorists and other undesirables from whom the country needs protection. Given this decidedly unflattering view of the character and motivation of America’s immigrant population, it comes as no surprise that Senator Cornyn and others in his party of family values also see no reason to provide additional visas for foreigners who seek to be reunited with close family members already in the country as US citizens or lawful permanent residents, another stumbling block to passage of compromise legislation.
As I read the headlines about continuing deadlock in the nation’s capital on immigration reform, I cannot help but think back to the very different perspective I gained on the matter as I participated for the first time as a new faculty member in commencement exercises held just over a week ago at New York’s august Radio City Music Hall for the inspiring graduates of Hunter College of the City University of New York.
Here at Hunter, approximately one-third of our students are foreign born, and many more are the children of immigrants, most of them first-time college graduates in their families. Hunter students hail from some 150 different countries and speak nearly 100 languages. Here in the city that has welcomed the world’s downtrodden for more than two centuries, we continue to educate and offer opportunity to a proverbial melting pot of talented and ambitious young people–or, as former New York Mayor David Dinkins liked to call them, the "gorgeous mosaic" that illustrates our noblest aspirations for our city and country and offers the greatest promise for our future.
So for the edification of Nation readers, if not for Senator Cornyn himself who, I suspect, is not a frequent visitor to this website, I offer just a few profiles of promising new immigrants to this country’s shore, whose astonishing stories challenge the regrettable assumptions he and his nasty colleagues put forth. Each of these extraordinary young people was singled out for academic achievement by Hunter College President Jennifer Raab at last week’s graduation ceremony:
, the class salutatorian with a 3.99 GPA, was just seven years old when her family escaped political unrest and a resurgence of anti-Semitism in post-Soviet Moscow. When she arrived in New York, Natalya spoke no English, and her father, a chemical engineer, was forced to take odd jobs as a waiter and a delivery man. But Natalya was determined to get ahead. She learned English and graduated from high school as the class valedictorian. As a biochemistry major at Hunter, she volunteered in city hospitals and developed a passion to become a doctor. This fall, she will attend medical school at the State University of New York at Stony Brook on a prestigious Jonas Salk scholarship, which she won for her outstanding research on DNA and cellular disfunctions leading to cancer.