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Edmund O. Schweitzer III: The challenges and opportunities of immigration

I’ve struggled helping students, employees and others with immigration challenges for over 40 years. As a young professor, I learned how international students spend too much time and money, and experience anxiety and grief, on student and work visas. These days, as president and chief technology officer of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, I frequently address immigration challenges, and am grateful to folks in BOTH political parties who help us all address the challenges and emphasize the opportunities of immigration.

Our country’s been struggling with immigration one way or another since its inception. Immigration is a process of government, related to sovereignty and borders. No wonder it gets complex! And no wonder it gets “politicized.”

But, as Americans, we lead with our hearts and our vision for freedom in all its dimensions: political, economic, religious…

The American poet Emma Lazarus, a Jewish woman of German and Portuguese heritage, wrote the poem on the base under the Statue of Liberty … to raise money to build that base.

“The New Colossus”

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I deeply believe this is who we are as a nation, and re-read her poem several times a year. It’s inspiring, and gets me back to “first principles.” It’s a moving ideal of “what DONE looks like!”

Sadly, we’re far from the ideal. We struggle with the realities that threaten our strengths, ideals and principles … things we need to keep our doors open. The nature of the struggle changes over time, making it all the harder. Aviation, not just ships. High-speed internet, not just letters or telegrams.

Government “owns” the process of immigration. “We the People” have granted our government specific and enumerated powers, including providing for the common defense, so it’s up to us to help our government get there.

I urge us all to help our government, and the officials we elect … of BOTH political parties … to depoliticize immigration. To go back to First Principles of Emma Lazarus’ poem and our Constitution. Let’s simplify and streamline immigration, all the while defending the principles that are at our roots, so the doors continue to open to the country of our Constitution.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to welcome folks from dozens of countries to their first visit to the United States … and do so in Pullman, Washington. Students, customers, visiting employees and tourists. I’m proud of that. And it makes me very happy.

With the complexities of bureaucracy today, immigration processes are slow and frequently seem to be haphazard and arbitrary, because they’re also rather opaque at times.

Thus, we turn to our elected officials for help many times a year. I used to be a bit shy about asking, but not now. How else can our senators and representatives and their teams learn and understand, if we don’t? Nothing speaks louder than the specifics of an individual in a tough situation due to bureaucratic mazes.

I appreciate working with our Representative Cathy Mc Morris Rodgers, a Republican, and with our Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat. Both these women and their staffs understand the complexities, delays and uncertainties in the processes of immigration. Both have big hearts. We’re grateful, and we hope our openness catalyzes improvements and de-politicizes progress on immigration. After all, we share the common heart Emma Lazarus shared with us all.

Edmund O. Schweitzer III is president and chief technology officer of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, based in Pullman, Wash.


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