On this day, in 1954, Ellis Island closed its doors after processing over 12 million new immigrants to the United States under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. The Statue and the Island are now monuments to the ‘open arms’ that America gave to people from across the globe dreaming of a better life. Folks landing in New York, especially those with few financial resources, went through a very involved examination process to check their medical and legal status. Despite long waits and challenging circumstances for many on Ellis Island, only 2% of the aspiring Americans were denied entry to the United States. Around 1/3 of the population today can trace roots back to Ellis Island, myself included.
Though Ellis Island was later used for the detention and deportation of war prisoners and many new immigrants experienced oppression within its walls, the site is now a historical park celebrating the legacy of our country’s immigration history- looking back with nostalgia and with accolades at the American ‘melting pot’ that welcomed millions from other countries aspiring to the American dream.
That history seems to be in stark contrast to the conversations about immigration today. From Arizona’s racist SB1070, to the inability to move the DREAM act forward, to the prevalence of ICE raids, immigration is a hotly contested subject. Clearly, when the influx of aspiring Americans are brown folks, a huge part of the population easily forgets the legacy of Ellis Island.
Today, activists are calling for community support to prevent the deportation of Steve Li. As the DREAM Activist blog reports: On September 15, Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) raided Shing Ma “Steve” Li’s San Francisco home and arrested him. Steve is ethnically Chinese but was born in Peru as his parents fled political persecution from China. Five years ago, Steve’s family was denied political asylum from China and issued a removal order. However, Steve was not aware of his immigration situation until his home was raided.
A rally is happening right now in San Francisco and calls are needed to Senator Boxer.
To me, though, it’s not just about this individual case. We need a huge societal shift to challenge the scapegoating of immigrants for the ills of our country. The inspiring activism around the DREAM Act is one place to look for inspiration.
The DREAM Act would give young immigrants who graduate from US schools the opportunity to become citizens if they earn an undergraduate degree or complete 2 years of military service. But the bill has been held up time and again by politicians on the right touting anti-immigrant sentiment.
To me, giving youth for whom the United States is their home, and who are working hard to gain an education, access to citizenship is a no-brainer. So today, on the anniversary of Ellis Island closing its doors, I made a call for Steve Li and applaud the amazing young DREAM activists. For those who oppose the DREAM act, I would invite you to look deep at Ellis Island’s legacy, and challenge your own myths and stereotypes about immigration today.