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Growing up in Ethiopia, I was fascinated by technology. Before even owning a computer, I would save my allowance to buy floppy disks for my unused collection. When I finally received my first computer at 16, I immediately disassembled it to understand its components and began coding my first programs. My interest in technology only grew when I came to the United States in 2000.
Shortly after arriving, I enrolled at the University of Maryland, majoring in Mathematics and Computer Science. As a freshman, I met my future business partner Ephrem M. Girma, a U.S. Army veteran and Ethiopian immigrant. With his graphic design talent and my passion for software development, we started BLEN, Inc. Since it began in 2004, our IT software and web development company has grown into a team of eight members and has served many major companies.
Looking back to when I first came to the U.S. 13 years ago, I believe that my immigration story is quintessentially an American one. The opportunity I had to earn a full scholarship to attend university, start a business, and be engaged in my community is no different than the success stories of other Americans. The more I travel outside of the U.S., the more I fall in love with America – its spirit of opportunity, hard work, and ambition is not found anywhere else. The opportunity here is truly unmatched. Despite the success of my immigration story, I know that many immigrants have not had the same fortune as I did. I carry the story of an Ethiopian college graduate who was forced to separate from her young American child because her application was denied and she was forced to go back to Ethiopia to work.
While the young mother waited to be reunited with her baby, she missed the major milestones like her child’s first words. It pains me to hear her experience because I know that it could have been me who was denied the opportunity to stay in the United States. Stories like this one have convinced me to stand up for comprehensive immigration reform. Congress needs to fix the immigration system so that America, a nation of immigrants, can attract people who will replenish and build upon its entrepreneurial spirit. Too many immigrants are denied the opportunity to use their American college degrees, start their own businesses, stay with their family members, and be contributing members of their communities.
Now as a U.S. citizen and small business owner, I am joining with FWD.us to encourage all Americans to call Congress and ask them to allow immigrants to continue to build the American dream.