116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Despite coming to America legally as young children and following all our laws, a loophole in our immigration system is forcing 250,000 young people, who were raised and educated here, to leave the country after they turn 21. To prevent this massive loss of home grown talent, Congress has proposed a fix to this problem in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.
It's imperative that Sen. Chuck Grassley join his Republican colleagues and former President Donald Trump in supporting this measure. I’m a retired United Methodist pastor and have served 16 years on my local school board. Education is a priority of mine because it’s how we invest in our youth and America’s growth. It frustrates me that America invests billions of dollars educating young people—only for them to be forced to leave because Congress failed to close a loophole that punishes legal immigrants.
This country can’t afford to throw these investments away. I know one such family, the Van Beeks, whose son was recently forced to leave America despite living here lawfully for 18 years. My relationship with the Van Beeks began over 70 years ago, when my sister and I sent care packages to his grandparents in Holland during World War II. We had the pleasure of hosting his father, Harold, when he visited America as a teenager, and we felt privileged when he brought his wife and son to America and launched his jewelry store here in Iowa.
Despite years of employing Americans and operating a successful business, our immigration system offers no pathway to permanent residency for small business owners like them. While Harold and his wife have a way to keep staying in the country, their son, Laurens, was forced to self deport after graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in computer science. Our system has no clear way for American raised children like Laurens to remain in the country after completing their college education. This is unacceptable.
Of the 250,000 youth at risk of self-deporting, 87 percent are specializing in highly sought-after STEM fields. Before Laurens was forced to leave, he was working for a company that was advancing critical scientific research. Iowa taxpayers spent roughly $11,000 each year for his K-12 education, according to census data on public school spending per pupil. Had Laurens been allowed to stay here, we could’ve fully reaped the benefits of investing in his education.
U.S. taxpayers are spending well over $10 billion helping these young people develop vital skills that our communities need. Congress must stop this waste by allowing young people who grew up here legally to stay. Lawmakers’ best opportunity for doing this is the upcoming defense bill. While the House already included this fix in its version of the bill, the Senate has yet to do the same. As the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, Grassley plays a crucial role in determining whether these protections are added. I pray that he puts people above politics and supports this reform.
Rev. Richard Paulus is a retired United Methodist pastor living in West Branch.
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