As many prepare for the traditional food extravaganza this Thanksgiving, I am grateful to my Polish immigrant grandparents who, with guts and grit, came to America World War I — it was the right place at the right time.
They were penniless teenagers who got off the boat at Ellis Island and fell in love with the romantic notion of the Statue of Liberty. It became a symbol of their hope for a better life in this new country. They didn’t speak English, but worked hard to assimilate into American society.
My grandfather worked on the killing floors of the Chicago Stockyards. He eventually opened a butcher shop, lost it in the Great Depression and then worked as a gravedigger to support my grandmother and their five children.
He did manual labor until his death at age 68. Many years later after I became a psychiatric nurse practitioner working in low-income clinics, I saw this fighting spirit in my immigrant patients.
My grandparents loved the pomp and circumstance of American holidays: the parades, flags and especially the Statue of Liberty standing tall and proud, welcoming all. They loved Thanksgiving and were grateful to be Americans.
Like my grandparents, the Statue of Liberty is also an “immigrant.” A gift from France and a token of shared reverence for independence with the United States the statue was created in France and shipped in pieces to this country.
In 1936 on the 50th anniversary of the National Park Service, President Franklin D. Roosevelt honored the Statue of Liberty and spoke of the importance of immigration in America’s past as well as the ability of new immigrants to adapt to American life.
Unfortunately, the Statue of Liberty has become a symbol of our national hypocrisy. Recent policies to stop immigrants from entering our borders betray our founding traditions.
A federal judge in California this week stopped the asylum ban issued by the White House administration Nov. 9 that would prohibit people crossing into the U.S. without papers at official ports of entry the possibility of seeking asylum.
It is fitting that this ruling happened during Thanksgiving week and it offers a sigh of relief from the onslaught of anti-caravan hysteria that clouded midterm election campaigns. Thankfully, with the latest ruling, these migrants’ petitions for entry can be processed following the usual routine.
Recent reports are that the 5,800 U.S. troops deployed at the southern U.S. border to deter migrants seeking asylum, will be home for the holidays. This is as the migrants themselves have left their homes for a new one in America.
Lawmakers need to use commonsense and a calm approach to the wave of immigrants approaching our southern border.
Responding with panic and xenophobia is uncalled for and counterproductive. We must remember that those in the so-called “migrant caravan” are desperate enough to leave certain slaughter in their home countries for the now small (and shrinking) chance for a better life here.
As these new and recent immigrants follow my grandparents’ path to the land of the free, they need to be welcomed.
Lois M. Platt is an assistant professor at the Rush University College of Nursing and a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.