As the 2012 Presidential Election heats up, many American citizens are divided on the issue of allowing new immigrants (legal or illegal) into our country.
One reason for the division is fewer jobs for American citizens because many legal and illegal immigrants are being hired to work for lower wages. Of course this is nothing new, since nativists during the late nineteenth to early twentieth century forced the Executive and Legislative branches of the American government to pass laws restricting immigrants from entering the United States.
These laws were directed toward specific groups such as Southern Europeans and Asian immigrants. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the Japanese Gentlemen’s Agreement in 1907 and the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921 (or Quota Act), that targeted Jews and Southern Italians.
Today, Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, outlined in his plan new parameters for immigrants entering the United States. He proposes, “raising the visa caps and grant residency to immigrants who have advanced degrees.” Really, if they have an advanced degree, is the US their only option to live?
The debate about what to do with immigrants is not new. It has been a central focus for generations. The experience of immigrants gaining citizenship today is equal to the waves of European immigrants who came to the Land of Hope or also known as the Land of Milk and Honey during the late nineteenth to early twentieth century.
View of the Main Building – now an immigration museum – on Ellis Island
This past summer, I had the pleasure to visit Ellis Island located in New York City; and I thought about this controversial debate as I retraced my families’ footsteps. Waves of immigrants first landed on American soil at Ellis Island before continuing their journey to other cities and towns across the United States.
Today, when visitors arrive at the entrance to the Ellis Island museum, almost immediately one views the many suitcases and metal trunks protected by glass that symbolize the immigrant struggle and journey to America. As I walked though Ellis Island, I wondered about the experience of my own ancestors.
My great-grandfather left Sicily in the early 1900s, because of poor economic conditions that were prevalent throughout the island. I remember my grandfather telling me how his father used every penny he had to purchase his ticket to America. He always told me, “be thankful for what you have because people like your great-grandfather struggled to make it in America.” These words continue to echo through my mind as I think of the immigrant experience then and now.
Today, many people leave their homeland for many different reasons that include: natural disasters, poor economic conditions, unstable governments, poor educational opportunities and Civil War. As a result, immigrants from across the world are still settling in the United States. The number of immigrants arriving from European countries today however, has dwindled over the decades because for them America does not hold the promise it once did.
For many Europeans, the chance at the American Dream has gradually faded. For example, I recently met an Italian woman and I asked her if she planned on staying in America. Her response surprised me, because she said, “there are more opportunities in countries like Brazil, China, United Arab Emirates, or Singapore. According to CBS news report (2012) Singapore was the number one country “to live and work abroad.”
Nonetheless, I was taken aback by her response because for generations immigrants wanted to work and live in America. However, the few European immigrants arriving in the US today and those from other continents do not have the same goal as in the past. There are many other industrialized countries where immigrants can settle, the United States is not the only option. In the past the idea of a “dollar and a dream” almost guaranteed a better life for you and your family. Furthermore, many immigrants built their roots in America after departing from their own countries.
Unfortunately, the United States economy has left many wondering if we will ever regain our industrial wealth that was the envy of the world. The backbone of America has always been immigrants despite the obstacles created by those opposing various immigrant groups in our government. Somehow Americans were able to overcome these racist and discriminatory acts.
While the ferry took me back from Ellis Island to Manhattan, I passed the Statue of Liberty and realized what happened to … “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”