May 30, 2013
Deepak in the News

Chopras: Fix immigration `slippery ladder`.


When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.

Deepak Chopra is the founder of The Chopra Foundation. Sanjiv Chopra is professor of medicine and faculty dean for Continuing Medical Education at Harvard. Their dual memoir, Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny and the American Dream

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When we came to U.S., we were able to grab onto a high rung. Not so for today's newcomers.

Despite the heated differences over immigration reform, everyone can agree on one thing: Nobody comes to America to get poorer.

The two of us speak from experience. During medical school back in India, our gaze was fixed firmly on America. The era was the early 1970s. The Vietnam War had created a serious doctor shortage. With unusual swiftness after we passed an easy exam, we entered the country, first Deepak and then Sanjiv. An overnight flight landed us in the same community hospital in Plainfield, N.J. We were off and running in the land of opportunity.

Our reception, though, was lukewarm at best. Immigrants grab on to the ladder of success at different rungs. We grabbed a high rung, no doubt. We arrived with a medical degree and had spoken fluent English our whole lives. But native-born doctors looked down on foreign-born ones. As graduates of rigorous U.S. medical schools, they had their suspicions about our training in India, which happened to be excellent.

The prejudice against us wasn't severe, but it was there. We knew that Boston medicine was legendary, so that's where we set our sights. But there was scarce chance back then that a South Asian physician could get affiliated with one of Harvard's prestigious hospitals. Both of us wound up at the Veterans Administration hospital and worked with determination and ambition.

Changing opportunities

Looking back, we were climbing a slippery ladder to success. For every three steps we took up, we'd slip two steps down. But at least the rungs weren't pulled out from under us.

Today, the sad truth is that opportunities for immigrants have changed. As the gap between rich and poor has drastically widened, and as illegal immigration has created so much hostility, a lot of rungs have broken on the ladder or don't exist anymore.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist David Autor has coined a phrase for it: the "polarization of job opportunities." White-collar jobs for the college-educated exist at one extreme. Service jobs for the less educated, including the invisible immigrant workers who do the jobs no one else wants to do, exist at the opposite end.

This polarization has been exacerbated by major job losses in the middle due to the recession and technology. This is not just a problem for immigrants, of course. The long-term unemployed (particularly anyone older than 50), laid-off factory workers and recent college graduates are forced to seek work for which they are overqualified.

America needs to repair the ladder to success, putting everyone on more solid footing no matter what rung they grab first. To grasp how urgent this need is, a fellow Indian immigrant, Fareed Zakaria, on his CNN program, GPS, assailed the myth of upward mobility in this country. Among his key points, Zakaria included studies over the past two decades that showed economic mobility has decreased in America. We now lag behind many European countries and Canada. Rags-to-riches stories are becoming the exception. A Pew Research report on upward mobility shows that few poor people rise into the upper middle class. A lot of factors are responsible, including education, the neighborhood you live in, and the stability of your family structure.

Big economic impact

The extended economic downturn has put a squeeze on every rung, but immigrants get pushed down especially hard. Laws against hiring undocumented workers are tightening on employers, especially in the construction and agricultural sector. Deportations have sharply increased under the Obama administration.

On the upper rungs, students who come to America to take advantage of our world-class colleges and universities are forced to return to their home countries before applying to be readmitted and find work here. Thus the law forces a brain drain that helps our foreign competitors and frustrates high-tech employers where thousands of jobs go begging.

All these trends need to be reversed with a clear-eyed understanding that immigration is economically, culturally and spiritually enriching for America. Members of Congress and each of us, native born or immigrant, must actively counter any anxiety or suspicion that immigration is a threat. The answer isn't special treatment for immigrants. It's equal opportunity for all.

Write Your Comment

  1. We need to do something about the spouses of the legal immigrants as well

    Mr. Deepak Chopra, I really like your work. It is very distinct. After reading the above"Fix Immigration, slippery ladder", I just thought I should express my views here. We talk a lot about immigrants in the US, illegal/undocumented population etc.There is one aspect which I feel is untouched. I won`t say it is ignored, but this needs to come out, needs to be adressed. The sponsored spouses of visa holders from India and other Asian countries have to face so many challenges when there is a divorce situation. They loose thier status and have to struggle in the legal situation, leave aside the other challenges which are just out of depth. Somebody has to understand and stand up for these people, who may be out of shame, may be out of their situation, never speak and keep suffering, perhaps for the rest of their lives.

  2. activistchica

    Right on, Deepak! It`s overdue time to pass comprehensive immigration reform that is fair and humane. Human beings are not illegal

  3. YourSoul

    The Internet will change all this. For the first time it is NOT necessary anymore to emigrate to another country. I know we are far from being there yet, but many efforts are already taken by universities all around the world to make education as wide as possible for everyone who has connection to the Internet. And what`s more: many studies are free. Science doens`t know the solutions anymore and invents science games for everyone on the Internet to play, so together we are able to find solutions. What has been predicted in the past about the "communication and knowledge Society" can become a true reality on the Internet. Read about exciting new ways here:

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