As the current president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and a practicing immigration attorney of more than a decade, I answer immigration-related questions and discuss immigration-related situations every day.
But, the recent effort by the Trump administration to bar immigrants from admission to or legal permanent residence within the United States based on income level and even modest use of public benefits struck me more personally than many of the other bricks in the administration’s invisible wall.
The reason it struck me so deeply is because it feels like an attack on my own immigrant history.
This photo is my grandfather’s naturalization certificate. “Nonno,” as we called him, immigrated to the US from Italy in his twenties, when fascism was taking hold of the country. He found his way to Chicago, met and married my grandmother and settled in northwest Indiana, Gary, where the steel mills contributed to a rising middle class of skilled laborers.
With a small but close Italian population, they integrated into the immigrant neighborhoods, raising my dad and his sister with the food and traditions from Italy as well as from the thriving Polish and Slavic communities. My family’s mix of cultural traditions are deeply rooted in this time. My mom’s family immigrated from Poland in the 1800s and my parents’ marriage marked a further blending of cultures. Growing up, we celebrated the best from the old world with American flair. Holidays were eclectic, with traditions brought from all over the world.
Nonno was not wealthy and he was not particularly educated. Had he or his family needed it, he certainly would have accessed public assistance because that safety net is meant to offer a helping hand. If a child had been sick, or our family was at risk as he looked for another job, he would have accepted the help that our nation’s social programs afford. Any help he had received would have been paid back tenfold through the contributions he would make over a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice.
He worked. He thrived. Together, he and my grandmother raised a family and I am one of the results. My daughter is another. She is the descendent of three centuries of immigrants– from Poland in the 19th century, Italy in the 20th, and the UK in the 21st.
Almost all of us have these stories about the immigrants who made us, some stretching back centuries. Or the story of our own individual life if we’re new immigrants ourselves.
I invite you to share your stories if you feel comfortable doing so. Share the stories of your family by posting on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram with the hashtag #MyImmigrantHistory. Push back on the negative rhetoric and share positive stories instead.
And please, consider commenting on the public charge rule before December 10. One easy way to comment is through an AILA comment portal that is live on AILA’s website. Tell the administration that judging someone on vague criteria and penalizing them for reaching out and taking that hand up that our country offers isn’t justice. We can’t stand by and let the rights of immigrants be eroded.