• The House's inaction on comprehensive immigration reform is hurting my business

    Sharifa Elaraj, a small-business owner, talks about how the House's inaction is costing her.

    When I was young, I thought of America as a land of dreams—a place where you could meet celebrities like Madonna, Tom Cruise and Samuel L. Jackson on a regular basis. At the age of 19, I moved to the United States from Panama City, Panama. When I got here, I didn’t speak English, but I wanted a career that required a near perfect mastery of it: law.

    Since I was six, I’d dreamed of the day when I could show up in court dressed up in a navy blue suit, making an unforgettable entrance through my opening argument. I remember thinking that attorneys had so much knowledge and how powerful it must be to exercise it. To me, the law was a way to open doors and help people get fair access to the legal system, especially those who have been overlooked.

    I also knew that America was the one place where I could make my dreams a reality. I started with a few ESL classes to get myself up to speed and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a B.A. in Speech-Communication. I graduated from Hamline University School of Law three years later and started my own firm soon after, focusing on immigration, workers' compensation, and personal injury.

    I felt so accomplished. I felt inspired to tell my story to kids with little resources or to the children of immigrants and remind them that nothing is impossible when you set your mind to it.

    I’ve lost count of how many thousands of people I’ve worked with in more than a decade of practicing law. But I haven’t forgotten their stories.

    There was a kid I met 10 years ago, who was undocumented. He told me that he wanted to be an attorney like me when he grew up. Almost 10 years have gone by since then. I saw him last year and asked him if he had any plans for law school, but his immigration status prevents him from pursuing his degree.

    There was a young woman I met who graduated at the top of her high school class. She wanted to become a registered nurse, but because of our broken immigration system, she had to put her goals on hold. Now she's working at a warehouse, making just over minimum wage.

    What makes these stories even sadder is that Speaker Boehner and the House of Representatives could change them right now, if they would just vote on comprehensive immigration reform.

    I joined this fight because as an immigrant and as an attorney, I believe that our undocumented brothers and sisters deserve a chance at the American dream. And as a small-business owner, I know that every day we wait to fix our broken system is another day we threaten our communities’ small-business growth.

    This is a country of dreams and opportunities, the only country where my story is even possible—a country built by immigrants for immigrants. Join the fight for comprehensive immigration reform.

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