Kayla and Lillian are High School students in Utah. This piece was written as a part of a civic engagement project with Alliance for a Better Utah. Their last names have been redacted for privacy.
We are truly a nation of immigrants, descended from those who journeyed to America in search of a better life. Our first president, George Washington, affirmed his belief in the value of our immigrant ancestors when he wrote, “I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.” Yet our current president, Donald Trump, now seeks to close our borders and sharply limit immigration by enacting policies that stand in stark contrast to the ideals of our forefathers.
Those ideals do seem to be under fire – the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism noted a 20 percent spike in bias crimes in 2016 alone. But the issue at the center of this complex problem may be surprisingly simple, as highlighted in a CNN headline: “Places with the fewest immigrants push back hardest against immigration.” As the executive director of the National Immigration Forum explained it, “Most Americans know and love the José or Mohammed they know, but are afraid of the José or Mohammed they don’t know.”
With that in mind, we’d like to share our own stories so you can get to know us – two high school students here in Utah, both immigrants, both proud Americans.
I am Kayla, a senior in High School and a future freshman at the University of Utah. I was just 4 years old when my parents brought me with them to the U.S. and began the immigration process; I was 11 by the time they finally obtained permanent-resident status. We eventually settled in Springdale, where my father purchased the Driftwood Lodge while my mother established herself as an artist. Ours is a typical immigrant story; according to the Center for American Progress, “immigrants are more likely than native-born Americans to start and own businesses.” My parents’ success has inspired me to push myself in school, and my family and I do our best to give back and contribute to the country that has given us so much. As immigrants, we can only hope that others will be able to have the same access to the hope and prosperity that the United States can provide.
I am Lillian, a junior in High School. Although I am also an immigrant, I don’t remember my home country; my American-born parents brought me and my twin sister here when they adopted us as infants from Kazakhstan. I don’t know much about my birth parents, but I’ve been told that they gave us up for adoption because they couldn’t give us the life they wanted for us. Growing up and being educated in America has given me many opportunities and allowed me to thrive in a way I never could have in my birth country. Like other immigrants, my sister and I are proud to contribute to life in America and are grateful for the chance to fulfill our dreams.
As immigrants, we’ve heard the angry, fearful stereotypes: Immigrants are terrorists, murderers, drains on the economy. But those stereotypes aren’t part of our stories. We’re not a faceless threat to be feared; we’re your classmates and neighbors, and we share your dreams and ambitions. Like you, we love this country and we will do our best to live up to the ideals on which it was founded.