It took me 22 years to become a citizen. My family came to America from London in 1993 on visitor visas. We “got in line” as we were told. What was supposed to be months of waiting ballooned into 16 years just to become legal permanent residents, or green card holders. There was nothing left to go back to. So we stayed.

During those 16 years, we were forced to live as undocumented. Yet that did not stop us from contributing to society. Like most immigrants, we paid taxes. My parents also made sure that my sister and I were afforded educational opportunities, like the YMCA Youth and Government program where I learned how to be a more engaged and productive citizen.

Here’s the good news: My parents and I reached the front of the line and naturalized in 2015. I graduated from college and received a fellowship to attend law school. The bad news: My sister was not so lucky.

Nisha was kicked off our family’s petition because she “aged out” at 21 years old. Though she earned a degree in microbiology and hoped to work in a genetics research lab, her immigration status prevented her from doing so. Although devastated, Nisha didn’t quit. When President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Nisha was able to enroll in a microbiology Ph.D. program and discovered and published a new species of bacteria.

It will be another 10 years until Nisha’s green card is approved. She will be 40 years old. What will happen to her education and experience when she becomes Dr. Patel but continues to be held back?

Immigration is a human endeavor to seek a better life for one’s family and improve communities. Our broken immigration system has made this endeavor nearly impossible for countless families. Immigrants have a limitless capacity to improve our country. In fact, 40 percent of Fortune 500 Companies were started by immigrants or the children of immigrants. A pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants would provide an extra $1.5 trillion to our GDP over the next decade.

Several misconceptions surround the immigration debate, such as the idea that immigrants take jobs away from Americans. This is untrue. Last year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that immigrants are “integral to the nation’s economic growth”; instead of taking jobs that Americans need or want, immigrants complement them in the workforce by finding jobs that go unfilled.

It is no secret that Michigan suffered greatly from the recession. Foreign-born workers, however, played an important role in the economic recovery. The more than 580,000 immigrants living in Michigan created or preserved almost 27,000 jobs. Moreover, every time a state gains 100 foreign-born STEM workers trained in a U.S. school, 262 jobs are created for native-born workers in that area in the following seven years.

We promised immigrants a better life here. We promised to take care of the poor and the tired, to imbue them with the breath of liberty. We have failed. Whether we blame our obsolete quota systems, under-resourced bureaucracies, or political dysfunction, we must take ownership of this problem.

Akash Patel is the founder of Aspiring Americans, the recipient of the 2016 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, and a first-year law student at the University of Michigan.

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