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Dear Editor:
Space flight has become routine enough so that few of us take the time to be impressed by the feat of strapping folks in a small cabin on to several thousand pounds of explosives, catapulting them beyond the atmosphere, and bringing them back to earth safely. For many of us, it is only the non-stop media coverage of disaster that puts the space program back into our consciousness. On board the Columbia when it disintegrated on re-entry was the first Indian-American woman in space--Kalpana Chawla. The disaster ended a remarkable story of immigration, but like space flight itself, the remarkable stories of immigrants are routine in this nation of immigrants. Ms. Chawla's family (on her father's side) barely survived the violence that accompanied the partitioning of India and Pakistan. Penniless after forced migration, her father scratched out a living in a small town in the North of India. Eventually, he became a successful businessman with not much time for his youngest daughter. Ms. Chawla graduated top of her class from Punjab University and wanted to continue her studies in the US, but her father was not available to grant his permission for her to go to the US to study. When her father finally did visit her at her university, it was just five days before enrollment for Fall classes at the University of Texas, where Ms. Chawla had been accepted for a master's program in aeronautical engineering. She got her father's blessing, but she didn't have a passport or a visa. All that was arranged in time to get her enrolled in the US. One wonders what would have happened if she was making her entry to the US today? This woman, who became a hero in the US and India, had enough determination to graduate at the top of her class in a male-dominated field, came to the US to continue her studies, and flew twice on the space shuttle. Would she have had her determination snuffed out by an immigration bureaucracy that now views foreign students with suspicion and mistrust?

Maurice Belanger
National Immigration Forum



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