Immigration Law & You
By R. Mark Frey
Part One: His Nation of Immigrants
Fifty years ago, on Friday, November 22, 1963, my friends and I came in from school recess around 12:45pm, settled into our desks, and then learned from our visibly upset elementary school teacher that the school day had been cancelled. No explanation, just “go home and talk to your parents”.
I grabbed my coat and cap from my locker, passing several sobbing teachers in the hallway, puzzled by what was going on. Outside the sky was dark and ominous, the leafless tree branches shivered in response to the brisk wind and I lifted my coat collar and pulled my stocking cap tightly over my ears as I trudged down the street towards my grandmother’s house a few blocks away.
There I found her sitting in her rocking chair transfixed by the television images of reporters reporting and Walter Cronkite giving updates after announcing that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas at 12:30 p.m. while traveling in a motorcade through downtown Dealey Plaza.
Cronkite’s demeanor was calm and professional as he provided the nation with news as we all awaited word on JFK’s condition. At 1:38 p.m., now struggling to maintain his composure, Cronkite broke the news that JFK had died at 1 p.m.
The nation literally shut down over that dark weekend stricken with grief and mourning as we all intently watched the television news with news reporters and experts discussing and pondering the tragic events. On Sunday, November 24, 1963, President Kennedy’s coffin was taken from the White House and transported by a horse-drawn caisson and accompanied by a black, riderless horse to the Capitol Rotunda where it lay in state for 21 hours.
Over 250,000 people filed by his casket to pay their respects. And, on Monday, November 25, 1963, following a state funeral at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, President Kennedy’s casket was taken to Arlington Cemetery where he was laid to rest.
For those of us old enough to remember, it was one of those events indelibly burned into one’s consciousness as a moment marking a significant point in the country’s trajectory. JFK’s tenure as president was relatively short, just 1,036 days running from January 20, 1961 to November 22, 1963.
Some have said that his accomplishments were negligible, but those critics fail to comprehend the promise offered by the Kennedy administration as it built hope for better days in a new decade; one seeking greater equality for all folks including minorities, the elderly and poor, and immigrants.
President Kennedy did in fact succeed with some accomplishments and also set the stage for many more to follow in that decade and later but his true and lasting legacy was his vision, encouraging people from all walks of life to dream and imagine the immense possibilities for our nation while improving our lot as a whole, and yes, government was one of several tools in our toolkit to facilitate that progress.
Now, fifty years after President Kennedy’s assassination, we are left to ponder what if he had not been killed on that fateful day in November 1963. What might have been? And, what direction might the country have taken? We can speculate but that will not change anything.
The purpose of commemorating JFK’s life, accomplishments, and vision some fifty years later is not to worship at his altar or drown ourselves in sorrow and mourn what might have been. Rather, it’s a time to remember him and renew our faith in that vision while working for change in so many problem areas that still remain unresolved.
President Kennedy delivered some searing and challenging words in his inaugural address on January 20, 1961 and they continue to be relevant and important some fifty years later as we recall and praise him for reminding us of future possibilities.
“All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days, nor in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this administration. Nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”
Next week, in my continued tribute to President Kennedy, I’ll focus on his vision of immigration and immigrants in his book, A Nation of Immigrants. Stay tuned.
R. Mark Frey is a St. Paul, Minnesota attorney who has been practicing immigration law exclusively for 25 years with an emphasis on political asylum, family immigration, naturalization, removal defense, and appeals.