A Message to Those Opposed to “Illegal” Immigration

Thoughts from my brilliant colleague, Liz Keyes at the University of Baltimore School of Law. She spends her days fighting for the rights of immigrants — those both with and without the official papers. In other words, pay attention to what she says:

There should be an equivalent of Godwin’s law for immigration. Like “on any article about any subject, within six comments, someone will say ‘my ancestors came legally through Ellis Island. What part of illegal don’t you understand?'”

Well, when your ancestors came, they didn’t need visas. We didn’t have numeric limitations on migration, and people didn’t need to fit into narrow categories to assert some right to migrate here.

Those rules and regulations did not start until the 1920s, when they began applying to most people trying to come into the country. Except Asians.

But that doesn’t mean that Asians were allowed to waltz into America without documentation. No. On the contrary, all Asian migration was banned. All of it. ALL of it. Am I being clear? Banning migration based on race-explicitly! proudly! boldly! endorsed by the Supreme Court!–was legal in our country for 70 years.

We did want to make sure Mexicans, European Jews, and Italians were clean, healthy, and not too terribly poor. We assumed a lot of our solo women immigrants were probably prostitutes, and made Mexicans pass literacy tests.

People have every right to be proud of their ancestors who took incredible risks and endured all the hardships of leaving home and family to come here. But please honor their memory by understanding that their immigration story occurred in an incredibly different context. Immigration laws are so hard to follow and paths to migration have been made so narrow, the story that might have made YOUR family’s immigration possible is no longer possible today. Indeed your migrant relatives probably have more in common with today’s migrants than you would like to think.

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