If you’re reading this Wednesday, it’s Valentine’s Day.
This year, instead of talking about how much I love my two valentines, my heart goes out to the approximately 1.3 million (or more) undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children and now may be facing deportation soon.
If you’ve followed politics at all, you’ll know that some of these people are known as “dreamers.” That’s after the never-passed DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which offered legal status in return for attending college or joining the military.
In 2012, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed some of the dreamers temporary permission to live and work in the United States, which they could renew every two years if they met requirements.
Last fall, President Trump directed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to phase out and eventually end DACA.
There’s a lot of controversy that DACA incentivizes an increase in illegal immigration, that it takes jobs from “real” Americans and that its repeal would protect communities from criminals (insinuating that the immigrants who came to the U.S. as children are inherently criminals), and much more.
While there are people on both sides of the fence, or border wall, I know that it’s likely that not a single person reading this today is a native American.
We are all immigrants, and while most people tell me their families came here legally, that “they did it the right way,” the truth is — they have no way of knowing.
Technically speaking, many of our ancestors wouldn’t be here if the laws when they immigrated were what they are today.
According to the American Immigration Council, until the 19th century, there was very little federal regulation of immigration and virtually no laws to break. In fact “immigration was encouraged and virtually unfettered” in the increasingly industrialized nation. The first immigration law wasn’t enacted until 1882.
The Immigration Act of 1891 established a Bureau of Immigration in the Treasury Department. The Immigration Act of 1924 (the Johnson-Reed Act) finally set up the first “consular control system,” which required that visas be obtained abroad from a U.S. consulate before admission. The 1924 law also established the Border Patrol since restrictive laws had led to large numbers of unauthorized immigrants entering the country.
The council further states that the vast majority of people who arrived at a port of entry were allowed to enter; the Immigration Service excluded only 1 percent of the 25 million immigrants from Europe who arrived at Ellis Island between 1880 and World War I.
Amnesty programs, such as the 1929 Registry Act, allowed “honest law-abiding alien[s] who may be in the country under some merely technical irregularity” to register as permanent residents for a fee of $20 if they could prove they had lived in the country since 1921 and were of “good moral character.”
During that time, roughly 115,000 immigrants registered between 1930 and 1940 — 80 percent of whom were European or Canadian. Between 1925 and 1965, 200,000 unauthorized Europeans legalized their status through the Registry Act, through “pre-examination,” a process that allowed them to leave the United States voluntarily and re-enter legally with a visa, or through discretionary rules that allowed immigration officials to suspend deportations in “meritorious” cases.
In the 1940s and 1950s, several thousand deportations a year were suspended; approximately 73 percent of those who benefited were Europeans (mostly Germans and Italians).
I don’t know my own immigration history, but I do know that immigrants built this country. They are products of our educational system. They have fought our wars and given their lives for our freedoms.
I know that dreamers’ freedom and sense of security shouldn’t be tied to funding for a border wall.
And I know that without immigrants, our ancestors included, America would be — in the words of our president — “a shithole.”
Editor’s Note: Credit: American Immigration Council.