By Trish Cole
Much of the current congressional debate on immigration policy in the United States is centered around the Hispanic immigrants in this country, but it is still an important issue for scores of other immigrant populations.
“I believe that immigration policies should help with the assimilation of immigrants, instead of the separation that exists now. What I understand and like about [President Barack] Obama’s policy is that it is meant to be unifying,” said Ani Baghdasaryan, 24, at an Irish bar in Alexandria, Va., about 10 miles outside of the nation’s capital.
Baghdasaryan immigrated to this country from Armenia with her family 12 years ago and says she learned very quickly that in order to fit in and make friends she had to be able to adapt and be open. She says, “I want to show my Armenian culture, but I don’t want to do it in a way that pushes people away. I think people want to see that you are making an effort to fit in for them to accept you.”
She’s pretty certain that when she first immigrated she and her brother were the only Armenians in the area, but looking back she’s glad she was forced to integrate and meet new people outside of what may have been a natural “clique”. And while she says she has many American friends, “For some reason, it is a lot easier to make friends with people that are foreign.”
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are more than 44 million immigrants in the United States and while the majority are Hispanic, nearly half are of non-Hispanic descent.
Baghdasaryan is among the nearly 22 million non-Hispanic immigrants in this country who will be affected by the immigration policies currently being debated in Congress.
For a country founded by immigrants, the debate is intense and divisive.
Letizia Sirtori, 32, is from a small town outside of Milan, Italy, and had always dreamt of coming to the United States.
“This country is very different in terms of relationships. It is hard to adapt, which is why people here try to find their own communities,” she says.
“I didn’t meet any Italians until two years ago. I simply didn’t want to. I think it is important to adapt when you move to a new place. Otherwise, I would have stayed home. But I did miss the relationships [from home] and felt the urge to look for my people, so now I have a balance.”
Sirtori immigrated to this country by herself in 2005 to pursue a master’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in hospitality management at the University of Miami. She moved to D.C. in 2007 to work for a company that promised to sponsor her work visa. She now does international marketing for a non-profit.
Sirtori believes that immigration reform is going to be huge for the United States, but says policymakers are missing an opportunity by not addressing reforms for immigrants who have arrived legally and are taking all the right steps. “I believe people who have been studying here, living here and contributing to the economy of this country should be able to get some sort of permit,” she says, adding, “Some people might think that immigrants are taking away jobs but I believe there is room for everyone in this country.”
About this story:
My parents immigrated from South America at different times in their lives and for different reasons. They raised my brother and I to be proud of our Latin American heritage and made sure we were well aware and appreciative of the opportunities being completely fluent in both English and Spanish would create.
As a first-generation U.S. citizen, the current debate on immigration policy is one that stirs up a lot of emotions and frustration. With most of the focus on immigrants that come to the U.S. from the Spanish-speaking countries to our south, I was curious what immigrants from other countries thought about the immigration debate currently taking place. I wondered if they felt disenfranchised from this debate, if they had any strong opinions about what is taking place, and what their experience in this country was like.
I was very lucky to get to speak to two young women who, like my parents, immigrated to this country at different times in their lives and for different reasons.
Their opinions and unique experiences were fascinating, and while not unique, they are certainly underrepresented in a policy debate that will likely be looked back on years from now as a pivotal point in this country’s history.