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Why We Can’t Wait

A new local coalition seeks to end the procrastination in Washington when it comes to immigration reform.

By Nathan Fletcher | Photo by Rebecca Rauber

Why We Can’t Wait

Announcing the formation of SDUCIR

In life, we often delay doing what we know we should. We don’t pay the parking ticket because money is tight and maybe if we hide it in the glove compartment, it will disappear. We don’t reach out to a friend who needs help because we aren’t sure exactly what to say. I’m guilty of not talking to my mother-in-law enough. Well, that’s an issue for a different column. But the point is that to varying degrees, we tend to procrastinate when faced with tough decisions. This is especially true if the action required is uncomfortable and would cost something. It is always easy to put things off until tomorrow.

This same tendency is at the heart of our country’s immigration crisis. When President George W. Bush took office over a decade ago, he invited then-President of Mexico Vicente Fox to be his first formal guest at the White House. Surely this sent a powerful message—we were going to get this immigration fiasco straightened out. But year after year, nothing happened. In President Fox’s words: “Six years went by and ‘mañana, mañana.’ This is not the spirit of this nation… action is what has to be done.” The approach on immigration reform seems to be putting off until tomorrow what should be done today. The problem with that approach is tomorrow never actually arrives. Tomorrow is always one day in the future. We must commit to do something today.

This issue has huge implications for San Diego. Of the 11 million people nationwide who are undocumented, an estimated 200,000 live in San Diego County. No one is actually going to round up and deport them, any more than they are going to arrest and incarcerate everyone who over the last three decades has illegally hired them to clean their houses, watch their children, or maintain their yards.

“We should have policies that help grow the economy here in San Diego. Not in Nigeria.”

But the immigration issue is about more than the border and undocumented immigrants. It is an economic issue. Every year, 20,000 American-educated entrepreneurs and engineers must leave our country, taking their talents, jobs, and earning potential elsewhere. You can get a student visa to use our education system, but after graduation you can’t get a work visa to stay and contribute to our economy.

This is exactly what is happening to Kazeem Olanrewaju, 38, a native of Nigeria. USA Today recently told the story of Olanrewaju, who last year received a doctorate in chemical and biochemical engineering. He is studying at University of Iowa on a full scholarship with our taxpayers footing the bill for an estimated $149,500 in tuition and fees for his master’s and doctorate degrees. He is scheduled to be deported this summer. Olanrewaju says, “I struggle with [moving away]. It makes me feel as if I’m leaving my city, my native place. It’s not something that comes easily.”

As a professor at UCSD, I see students like Olanrewaju all the time. They are inventing the next great solutions to change the way we deliver health care, use our mobile devices, or power our homes and cars. And we’re sending them away. As an employee at Qualcomm, I see a company with open positions to fill in San Diego, but a shortage of skilled workers to apply for the jobs available. We should have policies that help grow the economy here in San Diego. Not in Nigeria.

We have a great history of immigration making America stronger. Since our founding, our country has welcomed millions of the world’s citizens—immigrants who built our nation, our economy, and our prosperity. Today, 23 percent of San Diego’s population is foreign-born. Our coworkers, neighbors, and friends are immigrants endeavoring to make a better life.

Winston Churchill famously said, “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing… after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” Well, our national leaders have done everything to avoid dealing with this issue, and it appears that now the stars just may be lining up for a solution.

San Diego can play a leadership role. I was recently honored to be part of a diverse group of community leaders to announce the formation of San Diegans United for Commonsense Immigration Reform. We agree on four shared principles that any reform must include: 1) a road map to citizenship; 2) a commonsense, streamlined visa process; 3) ensuring a secure and better border; and 4) protecting the civil liberties and civil rights embedded in the Constitution.

If this diverse coalition—whose members represent business, labor, law enforcement, civil rights, conservative and progressive faith communities, Republicans and Democrats, and individuals who agree on little else in life—can all agree on shared principles to guide comprehensive immigration reform, then surely our leaders in Washington can find the courage to do the same.

You can lend your voice to this group as well. Visit and join an effort working for a real solution today, not tomorrow.

By Nathan Fletcher

He may not have won the mayorship last year, but the Qualcomm innovator and UCSD professor still has ideas for our city. He shares them here every other month.

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