Snow Days and Insights on Immigration

In Global Issues, Immigration on March 22, 2010 at 2:19 am

Yes, I know this comes almost a month late, but this incident was one that particularly resonated with me. So I decided to write about

Immigration, aside from being a passionate government issue, is also a question of personal identity. Does being an Indian-American make you an Indian or American?


As you must know, the recent snow storm, nicknamed the Snowpocalypse, crippled almost all of the Eastern US for almost an entire week in February. The Federal government was closed for days, as officials as well as residents tried to shovel out of almost 20 inches of snow in Northern Virginia. As everyone else in the neighborhood, as the snow subsided, my father and I found ourselves outside, trying to dig out our car from the massive blocks of snow surrounding us. It was then that this event took place.

Right underneath our building, since we live in an apartment complex, lives a middle-aged man. We call him “Kory”–he usually gets called on to fix plumbing, electricity, and in this case, to help the complex shovel snow out. He had invited over his sons that day to help us out with shoveling. Since both families are from South India, we started talking, and Kory asked me where I was going to college (more on college acceptances in a newer blog coming up!) As I told him about my in-state priorities, he went ahead to recommend me to Virginia Commonwealth University and James Madison University in the state of Virginia. Popular universities, yet not ones I had applied to–I had applied to colleges like UVA, Virginia Tech, etc.

Now, my first reaction to this was complete indignance. After all, college admissions are a relatively private matter, and exchanging such information to strangers is considered strange. After replying politely to Kory, I waited till he left and asked my father what he was thinking. Yet, my father explained to me a much more broad and logical way of thinking about it.

Kory, an Indian immigrant, earns almost minimum wage, working full-time in USA. His plight is very much like many of the immigrants I have encountered around here, waiting for a job around U-Haul and 7-11 stores, the infamous butt of many jokes. But Kory has managed to raise an entire family on this wage,  sending his son to earn his MBA at VCU. Getting one’s child educated abroad is a dream come true in many countries around the world, including much of India and Latin America. Looking at things through his perspective, I would be just as proud a parent, and would recommend VCU to any and all parents I met. Another everyday reminder that one must look at situations from other peoples’ shoes before judging their opinions and personalities.

This anecdote draws me into the larger picture of immigration itself. America is famously known as the “melting pot“–we are currently composed of 75% Caucasians, 15.4% Hispanic/Latinos, 12.4% African Americans, 4.4% Asians, . But added to this diversity, we also see some relatively shocking statistics— almost 11.9 illegal immigrants, 7.7 illegal aliens employed in US jobs, and the total legal and illegal migrant population in the US is approaching 38 million–1/3rd of the entire US population! The consequences of such dense immigration is observable around the US, as far back as my own back yard.

Now, as an immigrant teenager myself, I see both sides of the argument. The American people, suffering from a recession, need their own jobs back so they can promote protected home industry, increase productivity, revenue, and boost the economy. Increased immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, stresses this delicate balance, depressing wages and increasing competition in a highly competitive global market. Moreover, immigrants are sustained on US citizens’ tax dollars, which puts an enormous strain on the government.

But what are families trapped in third world countries supposed to do? Mexico is largely blamed as sending over the most immigrants across the border, but it is even harder to blame the Mexican people to blame for something as basic as the “pursuit of happiness”. Isn’t it written into the American constitution? Shouldn’t immigrants have a right to pursue good educational opportunities for progeny, better wages and salaries, better job prospects? As ideally as we may seem to think, pragmatically, by limiting immigration around the world, we are denying people the right to pursue their happiness. Immigrants suffer harsher working conditions, worse-paying jobs, and a variety of other harsh treatment to eke out their living in a foreign land solely for the sake of progress. Shouldn’t they be allowed to have a shot at freedom and success too?

The point remains, I am largely torn about where I stand with immigration. I have the basics: Yes, people should be allowed to migrate. The Gravity Theory argues that if two countries are close to each other, then the richer country will see more migrants. Stouffer argued that many people make up the migration patterns, push/pull factors, etc. as they go along. The earnings differential theory argues that a rich country will get more immigrants than a poor one. But what explains Kory’s story, and the stories of

A snapshot of the immigration rally in DC on March 21st, 2010. "Tens of thousands" gathered this afternoon to march for undocumented immigrants, according to The Afro American.

millions of undocumented workers that crowded around DC on March 21st, 2010? What if individual prosperity lies beyond your own country’s borders? And does identity have anything to do with this? What if I’m Indian, but consider myself just as American as my next-door neighbor from Kentucky? Does that make me Indian or American?

The pros and cons of immigration are rightly summed up in this article by Manali Oak:


  • Exchange of cultural values
  • New opportunities: the software industry, for example, has greatly facilitated companies like Microsoft in Silicon Valley.
  • New fields of education and newer career options
  • Open global market
  • Global prosperity
  • Provides a haven for those moving from terror, persecution, etc.


  • Crowding
  • Diseases, or even resistance to certain strains of diseases
  • Jobs and the wealth of a nation
  • Provision of resources such as education and health facilities: especially in the US, where educational facilities are essentially equal, immigration puts a huge strain on taxpayers’ budgets. Remittances from these incomes are also a major issue.
  • Crime rates increase
  • Brain Drain: the talented people migrate to MEDCs on grounds that they can further their intellect more there.

So which side is right? I have no idea. Maybe you can help me find out 🙂 Please leave your comments at the bottom!

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