This June marks the first annual Immigrant Heritage Month. This nationwide effort focuses on gathering and telling the inspirational stories of how immigrants shaped the history and culture of the United States.
Historically, the United States has been known as a land of immigrants; between 1820 and 1930, the U.S. absorbed about 60% of the world’s immigrants. It wasn’t until the Page Act of 1875 that the first attempt to limit the number of immigrants entering the country occurred.
Unfortunately, immigration laws have gotten progressively stricter, making it extremely hard for immigrants to come to the country and become lawful residents. Permanent residence in the U.S. (or obtaining a “green card”) is currently restricted to a few, narrow sets of individuals. If an individual does not have the skills a U.S. employer needs, or an immediate U.S. permanent resident relative who can apply for them, there are few ways to obtain U.S. residence. Thus, for a great many currently undocumented people, our federal immigration system is so broken that there is no line they could have gotten into to lawfully immigrate.
CLINIC’s staff is devoted to its mission because so many of us have strong ties to the immigrant experience first-hand. We work to help immigrants become citizens because we believe in the immigrant tradition that helped build America. In our national offices alone there are employees from Chile, Ethiopia, Russia, the Philippines, Nepal, and Mexico. Additionally, 83% of our employees speak a language in addition to English, with 19 languages being spoken by a staff composed of 42 people.
Personally speaking as an intern at CLINIC, I feel right at home and closely connected to the work being done here. My ties to immigration may be a little bit closer than most. My father was born in Trinidad and came to this country as a child. And my great-grandmother immigrated to the United States from Bulgaria after marrying an American soldier following World War II. I feel very thankful that my family did not experience as many hardships on the road to citizenship as so many are facing today. I am extremely proud of the immigrant ancestry in my family, and many Americans share this very same sentiment.
There is no better time to celebrate the roots of American immigration and educate yourself on our immigration system than during this month dedicated to appreciating immigrant heritage.
For information and local events involving Immigrant Heritage Month visit, http://events.welcome.us/
Additional resources on immigration reform can be found at the website of the Justice for Immigrants Campaign, www.justiceforimmigrants.org
Abigail Marshall is an intern with CLINIC’s Communications section.