On Mar 27 2009 by William A. Stock

Why “we believe in aliens”

What do a child refugee and a promising postdoctoral student have in common? Both were “aliens” – the legal term for anyone not a U.S. citizen. Both faced a challenging immigration story – the child came to the US ahead of a war and was put through school by his father’s work in a toothbrush factory; the postdoc was invited to the University of Wisconsin but almost had to make his career in Canada instead because of problems in getting a US visa.

Both chose to become Americans, and both won the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

The immigrant stories of Eric Kandel and Oliver Smithies, winners of the 2000 and 2007 Nobel Prizes in Medicine respectively, are important for immigration policymakers to understand. At the time each was allowed to immigrate to the US – as a 10-year-old Jewish refugee fleeing Austria in 1939, in the case of Kandel, and just after earning his doctorate from Oxford in the case of Smithies -their potential was not yet apparent. In today’s immigration system, they would have had difficulty proving their “national interest” or “well founded fear of persecution,” and yet sending them back where they came from would have deprived the United States (and perhaps the world) of two great scientists.

It is immigrant stories like these that got us to become immigration lawyers. Our clients bring enormous potential and energy with them. While some have already won their prizes and renown, others are just beginning to show their promise. Many bring their time and talent to the United States in less noticed, but no less important, ways – teaching our children, caring for our patients, helping run our businesses. Many come to join an American spouse, or parent, or child. All enrich our country as they work to make a better life for themselves and their children.

We believe in the contributions of immigrants to our country. We believe in their dreams, and their place in building the American Dream. We believe in aliens.