The following is a personal and somewhat emotional view of a complex and controversial topic: immigration. My focus here is not on what to do about illegal immigration, but rather how the system of legal immigration works - or does not work.
I focus on three people - all artists - one of whom is quite well-known and the other two of whom are not. Parminder Nagra is a beautiful and talented British actress (of Indian heritage). She starred in the movie Bend It Like Beckham and is a rising star on the NBC series ER. Ms. Nagra was recently interviewed on a late night talk show. Among other things, she related how she had just that day gotten her "Green Card." As a fan of Ms. Nagra's, I am happy that she will have the ability to stay in this country to continue her work on ER. I would also be delighted if she decides ultimately to become a citizen of the United States.
However, I got to thinking about another situation involving artists from a foreign country working in this country. Roman Placek and Edita Blaskova are a married couple - musicians (a cellist and a violinist, respectively) from the Czech Republic. They obtained advanced degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst several years ago and then started the Golden Mountain Chamber Ensemble Music Academy, which they operated both in western Massachusetts and the Czech Republic. (Disclosure: my son was one of Roman's cello students.) Roman and Edita stayed in this country over several years on various kinds of student and other visas. They tried - but failed - to get their "Green Cards." This was despite the fact that they were useful members of the community - home owners and taxpayers, as well as working artists. After much effort, they decided in May of this year to pack it up and return permanently to the Czech Republic.
A comparison of the situations of Ms. Nagra and Roman and Edita is instructive - and quite galling. All three are artists contributing to the cultural life of this nation. However, Ms. Nagra obviously had the benefit of well-connected and high-priced help - from NBC and others - in her efforts to stay permanently in this country. Roman and Edita did their best - with the connections that they made - to use the same system as Ms. Nagra. They were not successful.
It is important to emphasize that this is in no way a criticism of Parminder Nagra. She took advantage of the assistance she was offered - as anyone would or should. This is simply to say that it should not take being a star on television to be able to navigate the treacherous paths of our immigration system.
UPDATE: This post has been noted (in an update dated September 2) by Parminder Nagra Online, an unofficial fansite dedicated to the actress.
UPDATE JANUARY 2007: For those fans of Parminder Nagra who have "googled" their way here, I want to emphasize that I did not intend to criticize or "pick on" Parminder. I am also a fan of hers - and that fact makes the situation described above all the more poignant for me. Another way to look at this is to imagine if Parminder had applied for a US visa before Bend It Like Beckham and ER. It's not hard to imagine that she would have faced difficulties similar to those experienced by my friends.
As I've emphasized more recently, I feel that immigration brings fresh blood into the United States; we're already seeing a drain of intellectual capital that is related to the difficulties that talented people from elsewhere have in negotiating our immigration system. The new Congress is likely to consider taking up immigration reform. Hopefully, the members will be able to sensibly balance the need for security with the benefits that people like Parminder, Roman, and Edita bring to this country.