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A Needle in the Haystack

Friday, July 12, 2013

After passing in the Senate, the immigration reform bill has stalled in the House as legislators struggle to iron out changes and forge compromises.  Perhaps dimming its prospects further is a recent Congressional Budget Office estimate that maintains the current bill would only cut illegal immigration by up to 50%.  Why is this significant? 

Because according to a recent Rasmussen poll, merely 39% of Americans support a bill that only cuts illegal immigration by half. 

With so much uncertainty and angst in the air, it is helpful to take a step back and remember why immigration reform is so vital to the health and well-being of the United States.  And one story which encapsulates many of the reasons such reform is needed is that of Mehdi Yazdanpanah.  Recently, as part of National Small Business Week, each state chose a small business owner to be its “small business person of the year.”  Each state winner then competed for the national award.  Representing the state of Kentucky, Yazdanpanah may not have won the coveted national prize, but he and his company, Nauga Needles, are remarkable winners in many other ways.

Yazdanpanah originally came to America from Iran on a foreign student visa at the University of Louisville, where he was pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.  In 2004, he accidentally discovered that silver and gallium react at room temperature to create nano-needles which can be used by researchers to work with objects on a microscopic level.  Through a fellowship and later support from Louisville, the State of Kentucky, and the National Science Foundation, he was able to launch his business and become its CEO.
Today, Louisville’s Nauga Needles is home to six full-time and four part-time employees.  Its sales are growing, and their primary customers are researchers in the semiconductor industry, the sciences, and nano-mechanical engineering.  With nanotechnology still in its infancy, the company’s products are allowing other researchers to make breakthroughs that will build upon each other.  As Yazdanpanah notes, “I like to say that I didn’t get a Ph.D. to get a job, I got a Ph.D. to create jobs.  And I hope that some day my company hires thousands of people if not hundreds of thousands.  That's my dream come true.”
It is a dream that one can only hope lawmaker and citizen alike keep in mind as the transformative prospects of immigration reform remain tantalizingly close.  Immigration reform need not be a nano-needle in the haystack.  But alongside the haystacks of Kentucky, nano-needles remind us that the smallest innovations can make America the biggest beneficiaries of innovations by immigrants to our shores and our heartland.

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