As an immigrant, a woman, a social worker and a professor who teaches about the immigrant experience in the United States, I feel very connected to other immigrants throughout this country on many levels. Restrictive immigration policies such as HB 87 in Georgia, HB 497 in Utah, SB1070 in Arizona and HB56 that is about to go into effect in Alabama are oppressive to immigrants and is a reactive response to the complexities of the immigration issues in this country.
My mother migrated to the New York when my sister and I were 8 and 10 years old respectively. During the five years we were separated she parented us from a distance, while working three low paying jobs to support herself, my sister and me financially. As a single parent, my mother worked days, nights and weekends taking any job that came her way to keep us sheltered, fed and clothed. During the entire time my mother lived in New York, while we were back home, she had two dreams (1) to be reunited with her daughters and (2) to provide us with an opportunity to get an education so we can be self sufficient and not be subjected to working under the same exploitive and repressive conditions she had to endure for so long.
Today, my mother has an Associate’s degree, my sister has a Master’s degree in Public Administration and I have a Ph.D. in Social Welfare. I am indebted to my mother for her sacrifice, endurance, hard work ethics and commitment to my sister and I. My sister and I grew up knowing that being an immigrant meant having to work hard and make sacrifices and as a result our number one role model is our mother. My son now is on his way to realizing his dream as well and not only does he have his dad and I as his biggest supporters, he is blessed with the support of his aunt and grandmother.
My family’s story is not unlike other immigrant groups that came before us, such as the English, Germans, Irish, Italians, Jews, Asians, Africans, Mexicans and others. So, as an immigrant I am dedicated to help others who are faced with horrendous restrictions such as the HB 87 where women are faced with options that may get them killed by their abusers or deported. If this policy existed for the early immigrant groups that this country recruited, welcomed and supported generations ago, we wouldn’t be the country we are today. Americans two, three, four and five generations removed from their ancestral migratory experience should come to the table and find solutions that work in the best interest of the country, while keeping in mind “this by the grace of god goes my grandfather, grandmother, etc.” instead of engaging in these knee-jerk responses.
Historically, whenever the United States is experiencing economic difficulties, it has responded with restrictive, oppressive legislations and policies that are punitive to immigrants, especially people of color. This was evident with the slave trade of African immigrants, the Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882, and the deportation of Mexicans during the depression, many of whom were citizens. Although, there has always been anti-immigrant rhetoric, policies and practices, including against the early immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, eventually these groups have assimilated into the American society. So I ask myself, why have the protracted discrimination and punitive laws persisted for such an extended period of time? Race, color and physical characteristics have not allowed these new immigrants to hide or assimilate. Even if they change their names they can’t change their skin color, physical characteristics or their race. Immigrants today are punished twice. They are punished for being newcomers and also for their racial and physical appearance. For these immigrants there is no melting pot. They are denied access to the American society. Every possible obstacle is put in their way when they try to adapt. I realize how fortunate my family was because at that time we arrived in New York, we were not faced with restrictive policies such as Georgia’s HB 87. It could have happened to us. I cannot stand apart from the struggle of today’s immigrant.