The Trump administration’s proposals to change the U.S. immigration system and end most family reunification preferences would have kept me from helping my mother, and if they become law, they’ll keep countless Americans from doing the same for their loved ones. The president wants to end visa preferences for parents, adult children and siblings of immigrants — only minor children or spouses would qualify for family visas. In Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, Trump said that he would protect “the nuclear family” and that the changes he’s proposed are necessary for “our security, and for the future of America.” But his rules wouldn’t have protected my family, or our future, at all. In my case, bringing my mother here had a profound impact on my life and those of my children — and no one would have been better off if immigration law had forced her to stay in Honduras.
In 1996, after going through a divorce, I found myself a single father, trying to raise three tweens and teens on my own, wondering how I would handle work and family obligations. My mother saved my life. In many ways, she saved my children’s lives as well. She was the after-school presence, always there to greet them and keep them out of trouble. We did a good job: All three graduated from good colleges — the University of Pennsylvania, Duke and the University of Pittsburgh. They’ve all gone on to successful careers in education, technology and real estate.
Without my mother here, I would have had to decline the greatest professional opportunity of my life in 2001: the chance to work in the White House as a special assistant for economic policy to President George W. Bush. What had been a few hours a day of after-school care that my mother handled became many hours a day and often late nights, as anyone who has worked in the White House will attest. Had she not been here, I could never have met the demands of that job with kids in high school.
In 2002, we celebrated my mother obtaining her U.S. citizenship with lunch in the White House Mess. We sat there and wished my father had lived to see this — his son working in the White House. My father, born to a single mother in a poor mountain town in Honduras, got a college education only because Rotary International gave him a scholarship at age 27 to study in the United States. He went on to get a master’s degree in economics, the same trade that brought me to the White House’s National Economic Council.
In some ways, mine was an atypical foreign family: My parents spent 20 years working here on G-4 visas , which are granted to employees of international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank, where they worked before taking overseas posts and ultimately retiring in Honduras. In other ways, though, we were the stereotypical American immigrant story: They came here to improve their lot in life. They were luckier than most and better educated than many. But that education took place only after my parents got here. They came with a high school education and no assets. They left this world with much more, but you couldn’t have predicted that when they first arrived in the United States.
Now the Trump administration is deriding family reunification as “chain migration,” a term intended to belittle the contributions that immigrants and their families make. “Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives,” Trump claimed Tuesday — a claim that isn’t true, as current law only allows citizens or permanent residents to sponsor immediate relatives. Some of the president’s allies, such as Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), don’t even want people like me to be citizens in the first place: My parents were not citizens or permanent residents when I was born, and King has introduced legislation to prevent children of people like them from becoming citizens at birth. Under these visions for America, I would not have been able to work in the White House; I would not have been able to sponsor my mother for permanent residency; and my mother would have been unable to help me and my children accomplish what we have accomplished.
I ask only that people look at me and my family, especially my mother, as part of the positive impact that immigrants have in America. Both of my parents were born in Honduras (no doubt one of the places the president had in mind when he made a scatological reference to the countries of origin of many immigrants). Thanks to the compassion and vision of our current policies, though, my mother made a lasting contribution to our nation: the well-being and advancement of me and my three children. No one looking at us would ever think “Norwegian.” But surely they would think that we embody the American spirit.