A year ago, Sandy tore through the New York area, leaving destruction and damage in her wake and lives upended. The subway flooded, power was out in much of the city, and life ground to a halt for millions.
As Sandy was approaching, I had been in London celebrating a significant birthday. Emerging from a post celebratory haze, I was alerted to the storm though a wave of updates and concerned messages from friends and family. Somehow, my flight back to New York was uninterrupted but on arrival to JFK, I felt as if they were closing the door behind us. The airport was empty – flights were not departing and those who had arrived were quick to find a way home, or to somewhere else, depending what zone home was in.
One of those places battered by Sandy was a small island on the south western tip of Manhattan – a tiny island of infinite value: Ellis Island. As the gateway to a new life for millions upon millions, Ellis Island represents to many a new beginning and life in the U.S. Holding much history, those paths tread by so many who were, poor, tired, hungry and troubled, but yet yearning – yearning for a new life and new opportunities; yearning for what they saw as a chance for a better life for themselves and their family.
Ellis Island, exposed in the New York Bay, was overpowered by Sandy and flooded, closing down the Ellis Island Immigration Museum for a year. As I read the reports that the museum has been reopened and visitors are again welcome, I feel hope. Not just hope that this landmark has been restored and that thousands will continue to be moved by it, but hope that this year we may see the passage of an immigration reform bill that would reflect the hope that Ellis Island itself represents.
It is trite to say it, but America is a country of immigrants. Many of us are able to trace our families back to Ellis Island in a time when the U.S. immigration laws welcomed immigrants. Prejudices, fear, and mistrust were surely also waiting for those new immigrants, but at least our laws recognized the need for the labor, ingenuity and diversity that immigration brings and continues to bring today. Indeed, according to a 2012 Kauffman Foundation study approximately 25% of U.S. companies were founded by immigrants nationwide, and approximately 50% in Silicon Valley. These numbers, however, are declining, due largely to an antiquated and unrealistic immigration system.
2013 presents an opportunity to overhaul our broken immigration system and replace it with one that can address reality. I fear I will be standing here, one year from now, regretting the lack of success in immigration reform. We cannot let the storm of rhetoric from restrictionists wash us away. We need to keep the power on and the momentum going so that one year from now, we can look back and know that families have been restored, businesses are succeeding, and people have come out of the shadows like so many before them.