As the public debate rages on what to do about U.S. immigration policy, we would do well to remember the strength of a nation built by immigrants. Most of us have stories of our ancestors coming to America from Europe, Asia, the Middle East. Even the Daughters of the American Revolution had ancestors who came over on a boat – the Mayflower. And although Native Americans might claim to be the original inhabitants, they most likely have distant ancestors who originally hailed from the land mass now known as Asia.
Together these immigrants created the country in which we now live. Immigrants farmed the land, built railroads, populated factories, and brought new ideas, cuisine, and culture to America. Each successive wave of immigrants faced hardship and often discrimination. Americans felt threatened by their presence and their differences.
I have met many foreign-born Americans who are underemployed. They were doctors, professors, or engineers in their home country but are unable to practice these professions in America. I also know hard-working laborers from poor countries who moved thousands of miles from home for the chance to put food on the table for their families.
As the public debates immigration policy, they need to realize that immigrants are not a threat to their livelihoods or safety – at least not any more than many American-born citizens are.
My own children are first-generation Americans on their father’s side. Yes, my husband was processed through Ellis Island in the 1950s. By dint of hard work and sheer will, he and his family were able to rise up and become productive members of the middle class.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” – Emma Lazarus
These words should not just be a sentimental quote on the Statue of Liberty. They represent what is best in the American spirit and the human soul. May they inspire us to fashion an immigration policy that is sensible, yet humane.