Our Nation: A Mosaic Of Immigrants

Wherever we live in this great nation, wherever we visit or just view from afar we see the faces of those who came before us.

We are a nation of immigrants from all over this sphere we call Earth. My father was born in what is now Belarus. I know that he had citizenship papers through his parents ( my grandparents). My mother was born here. I believe her parents who were from Austro-Hungary were naturalized citizens but I do not know for sure and personally I do not care. They worked, they raised a family and they were good citizens.

The original settlers were immigrants to a land inhabited by our Native Americans. The first settlers were our first “illegal immigrants”. Whatever was their relationship with the indigenous inhabitants of this country they blazed trails, worked the land, established businesses, and laid tracks for railroads. They had children who were born here. Those children were the children of “illegal immigrants” This process continues. Immigrants arrive across our borders on foot, on ships or on airplanes. Some, mostly the privileged classes, go through legal channels and many follow a path to citizenship. Others fled their homelands because of discrimination, hate, poverty, a corrupt government and settled here. Many fear being persecuted or even murdered in their homeland because of their religion, race, gender, national background, sexual orientation, political views, their fighting against drug cartels or being caught in the middle of gang wars. Many of these reasons are the same reasons many fled to the United States from Eastern Europe during the last century. Many of those from the latter part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century arrived and stayed illegally. They raised children who had their own children. Many of those children of “illegal immigrants” now are political and corporate leaders. The term “WOP” meaning without papers was a derogatory term given many of those immigrants. There were riots against immigrants from Italy. In 1891 eleven Italian immigrants were lynched in New Orleans. At least twenty Italian immigrants were lynched in the south in the 1890s. Chinese immigrants in Los Angeles’s Chinatown were massacred in the 1870s because of their immigrant status. We know all too well of the massacre of our Native Americans going into the 20th century. Catholics were singled out for discrimination in many parts of our nation.

This nation all too many times has been anti-immigrant. Laws have been enacted over the course of our history aimed against one group of immigrants or another. This nation has to allow for those who have been here, raised families and are helping our economy to stay. Nativism has been the philosophy of many presidential administrations, Congresses and movements. Nativism typically means opposition to immigration, and support of efforts to lower the political or legal status of specific ethnic or cultural groups who are considered hostile or alien to the natural culture, upon the assumption that they cannot or should not be assimilated. Many nativists call themselves “patriots”.

Families cannot and should not be separated. President Obama’s pledge and reported executive action should be supported by all. From the 1830s through the 1850s nativists opposed immigration of Catholics from Ireland. In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Immigration Act of 1924, or Johnson–Reed Act, including the National Origins Act, and Asian Exclusion Act (Public Law 68–139, 43 Stat. 153, enacted May 26, 1924), was a United States federal law that limited the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the United States in 1890, down from the 3% cap set by the Immigration Restriction Act of 1921, according to the Census of 1890. It superseded the 1921 Emergency Quota Act. The law was primarily aimed at further restricting immigration of Southern Europeans, Eastern Europeans, and Jews. In addition, it severely restricted the immigration of Africans and prohibited the immigration of Arabs, East Asians, and Indians. In 1939 the transatlantic ship St. Louis set sail for Havana with close to 1,000 Jewish refugees from Germany. When Havana refused to admit them because of hostility to Jews the ship set sail for Miami. President Roosevelt refused to even respond to a plea to admit the Jewish refugees. His State Department refused admission citing the US Immigration and Nationality Act of 1924 and its quotas. The St. Louis returned to Europe. A majority of those Jewish refugees perished in Nazi occupied Europe. Fast forward to present day America and we see the anti-Mexican sentiments and anti-immigration laws in many of our states. We cannot allow this to happen. I applaud President Obama for declaring that he will act to overhaul the present immigration enforcement system and give status to many undocumented immigrants who have been in this nation for at least five years. It ahs been reported that his executive orders will allow all undocumented citizens who are the parents of children born here to obtain legal work documents and not have to live in fear of being deported. It is hoped that the incoming Congress and that states with biased anti-immigration laws will work with our President. Presently laws enacted in at least five states perpetuate discrimination against specific groups. Laws inspired by Arizona’s SB 1070 invite rampant racial profiling against Latinos, Asian-Americans and others presumed to be “foreign” based on how they look or sound. They also authorize police to demand papers proving citizenship or immigration status from anyone they stop and suspect of being in the country unlawfully. Congress has to act and act now. Personally I am very happy to see President Obama finally act on this issue. Much more is needed.

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