In a recent study of the genealogy of my family, I discovered that the information that is available online is amazing to see.
My grandfather, Joseph, emigrated from a small town that is now located in the country of Slovakia. The Ellis Island ledger sheet, which can be seen online, shows that he arrived in New York harbor with a small suitcase and $7 in his pocket. Grandpap Joe settled in the Pittsburgh area of Western Pennsylvania, where he met my grandmother, an emigrant from Prague in the Czech Republic. They raised a family that included two sons who saw action with the Marines in World War II, and worked as steel workers afterward. One of those sons, my father Frank, married and raised a family of three boys and two girls. All five went on to get varying degrees of education after high school and all have successful careers with families of their own.
Fast forward to 2005. The scene is the picturesque Torrey Pines golf course that is situated on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in an exclusive area of San Diego. I am walking the first fairway with three good friends. To my left is Adam, a medical doctor who is employed by the State Department to establish medical networks in Third World countries. Adam is an immigrant from Korea. To my right are Robert and Ivan. Robert is an engineer and also a CPA, and Ivan is an engineer. Robert, Ivan and I met when we were working for companies employed by the city and county of San Diego to build huge water projects. Robert and Ivan are both of Hispanic heritage.
My family and the families of Adam, Robert and Ivan are what “immigrating to America” is all about. First-generation immigrants often hold the jobs that are at the bottom of our economic ladder, but the hardships experienced by the first provide strong motivation to the second and third generations to pursue education and strive for the occupations that provide success.
Do you think, for one moment, our grandfathers or great-grandfathers, when making the agonizing decision to leave everything they knew and loved behind to come here, worried about the legality of their decision under U.S. law? Maybe they left their countries because of political, religious or economic repression, but they came here because of the promise of America to supply those basic freedoms.
Fortunately for me, at the beginning of the 20th century, our country needed immigrants to work in the burgeoning industrial base that would form the backbone of middle-class America, so my grandfather’s path to citizenship was easier than it is now. Now, the Immigration and Naturalization Service raids a farm or a factory, and illegal immigrants lose jobs that some of them have been working for years. Many have started down the same path that produced me and my friends Adam, Robert and Ivan; however, not the path to citizenship.
At the same time, farmers in California’s central valley are plowing crops under because the field workers have been detained as illegal immigrants or have fled. Factories are closing because workers who have worked there for generations and are irreplaceable have been swooped up in the INS net.
It seems to me that if an illegal immigrant is otherwise an honest worker with a job, simply trying to support his or her family, then it is in the best interest of America to provide a path to citizenship. It is good for the families of the immigrants, it provides workers who support our economy and it is also an essential part of the American dream.