Musings on Immigration

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From Refugee to Riches in 30 Years

Once upon a time, there was a young boy named Sergey who lived in a faraway land known as the Soviet Union. He lived in Central Moscow in a tiny apartment with his mother, his father and his grandmother.

Sergey’s father Michael was very smart, especially in math and physics, and always dreamed of being an astronomer. However, because Sergey and his family were Jewish, they were often denied many opportunities; and so his father was not allowed to study physics or attend graduate school to achieve his dreams.

One day, Michael had to attend a conference in Warsaw, Poland, for his job. In Poland, he met dozens of other mathematicians like him, from places like France, England and the United States. Michael came back to his family and Moscow and said to them, “We must leave the Soviet Union and look for a better life somewhere else.” His wife agreed, and Michael applied for exit visas in order to leave the country.

Once the government found out that Michael had applied for visas for himself and his family to leave the country, they fired him from his job. Michael and his wife took temporary jobs while they waited to receive their visas. A group known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) helped the family. Michael and his wife took turns watching young Sergey. In the meantime, Michael decided to teach himself computer programming. Sergey watched, even though he was only six years old.
HIAS helped the family in many ways. They helped the family understand the process of leaving the country, helped them prepare their visa applications, paid for their tickets out of the Soviet Union, and even gave them money to help them start their new life. Then one day, about nine months later, the visas arrived and Sergey and his family left the Soviet Union as refugees.

Sergey and his family ended up in the United States in the state of Maryland. Sergey went to school and studied a lot. He wanted to study computer science and math, just like his father.

While he was in graduate school, Sergey made a friend named Larry. They decided to start a business together. They wanted to create the biggest, best search engine for the internet that anyone had ever seen. They named their company “Google.”
Google became one of the most successful companies ever in the United States, and Sergey became very rich. Today he is the 26th richest man in the entire world, and he is worth over $12 billion!

Last week, Sergey was thinking about coming to the United States as a refugee. He remembered how full of hope his family had been in leaving their country and starting a new life. And he remembered how much HIAS had helped his family. He wanted to help other families like his start over and have opportunities to do great things.

Sergey and his wife decided to give $1 million to HIAS. The Chief Executive of HIAS, Mr. Gideon Aronoff, thanked him and said, “one of the most important things that Sergey Brin’s gift signifies, not just for HIAS but more importantly for the nation, is the possibilities inherent in being a refugee. The debate over immigration has frequently become so bitter that an element has been lost: refugees are as varied in their skill sets and contributions as the rest of us.”

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