Originally posted on November 21, 2014, at DidYouCheckFirst
As the grandson of immigrant coal miners, I stand squarely and strongly with the President on his decision to change the way immigration laws are enforced and to offer undocumented people a way to come out of the shadows. It is the right and moral thing to do.
My grandparents were treated as indentured servants by the coal companies who employed them. They were exploited in the same way that employers exploit today’s undocumented people. I don’t know what people think it means to come to America legally, but it’s probably nothing like most people believe. I wonder how many Americans could even pass the Naturalization Test (http://www.uscis.gov/us-citizenship/naturalization-test).
My grandparents had to overcome their fair share of bigotry and hatred, too. From the stories I heard, it was a lot like what some Americans are doing to this generation’s immigrants, but make no mistake. My grandparents came here for the same reasons people still come here today – for a better life.
What was different then was that this country had Ellis Island instead of barbed wire and border patrols and idiots screaming at children on buses. There was a port of entry, and the world knew where it was. They came and they stayed and they became citizens – not right away, mind you, and only because their employers “sponsored” them as citizens. They were uneducated. They didn’t speak English and they never really learned to speak English all that well beyond “broken” English.
Despite all of that, they stayed. They became part of the people who built what would become the greatest country on Earth as the 20th century dawned. Without them, who knows what America would have become and what it would be today? What would America be without people like them willing to risk it all and to leave absolutely everything and everyone they knew behind to come here for a better life? Sure, they had grand plans to “go back” some day, but they never did. They stayed, and they became America.
How is it that some of us either can’t or choose not to see precisely the same kinds of people with the same kinds of dreams and aspirations coming here today?
How is that some of us have come to think that today’s immigrants are so very different from my grandparents?
And, how is that some of us think the definition of being an American is to embarrass ourselves and this great country by demanding that our government tear families apart for nothing more sinister than the “crime” of coming here to build a better life for themselves and their families?
That’s not who I am, and it’s not how I define what it means to be an American. I am the proud grandson of dreamers, and someday the kids whose parents and grandparents followed their dreams and came here despite the hatred and despite the fences and despite the lack of a modern-day Ellis Island will say the same things I’m saying. That is what America is about, and that is what it means to be an American.