Let’s celebrate Independence Day as a nation of migrants
By R. Mark Frey
Immigration Law & You
As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day on the Fourth of July with our families, friends, and fellow residents, eating classic summer fare, playing games, watching fireworks, and enjoying the general camaraderie of it all, let’s not forget the historical underpinnings of this remarkable day, a sacred day for those of all faiths and persuasions in this great land – a day commemorating our declared independence from the colonial and tyrannical rule of Great Britain and King George III. Indeed, a day for both solemn and joyous reflection.
Some 242 years ago on that momentous day in 1776, the United States of America was founded with the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. That document proclaimed:
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
The members of the Continental Congress knew full well that by signing this historic document, they faced certain death should the experiment fail.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
An indelible mark on the American psyche has been made by the imagery formed by such iconic words as Declaration of Independence, 1776, Liberty, Freedom, Equality, Statue of Liberty, Immigrants, Ellis Island, Golden Gate Bridge, and our much-venerated Constitution with its concern over abuse of power and developing notions of Separation of Powers, Due Process, and the Rule of Law.
A great experiment indeed as recognized in the Preamble to our Constitution with the following awe-inspiring words:
“WE THE PEOPLE of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
And again, years later, as Abraham Lincoln wrote in his Gettysburg Address during yet another trying time in our nation’s history:
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure… that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Even today, we continue to struggle with the core principles and ideas laid down by the Founders, trying to apply them in this, the ongoing American Experiment. We need only look to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26, 2018 decision in Trump v. Hawaii, a review of President Trump’s Executive Order 9645 (also known as Travel Ban 3.0 or “Muslim Ban 3.0”), as the majority found he acted within the scope of his authority, under the Immigration and Nationality Act, in barring entry to nationals from several predominantly Muslim countries, specifically Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen (and North Korea as well as certain government officials and their family members from Venezuela). To be honest, it looks like a ban based on animosity towards followers of the Islamic faith, and which Justice Sotomayor (joined by Justice Ginsburg) found in a vigorous dissent arguing the Order runs counter to the Constitution’s Establishment Clause prohibiting the government from favoring one religion over another. This may not be the end of it as the Supreme Court has been shown to have made mistakes in the past. One need only look at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1944 decision, Korematsu v. United States, that upheld Executive Order 9066, a 1942 decree effectively allowing for Japanese Americans to be removed from designated “military areas” and surrounding communities and placed into internment camps.
How does one vilify immigrants when the entire nation is comprised of migrants and their descendants?
What about your ancestors? Did they escape their home country because of religious persecution? Did they leave because they failed to belong to the right tribe or clan? Perhaps they avoided military service in a military conflict? Fled gang or warlord violence? Perhaps a daughter running away from female circumcision or forced marriage? Looking elsewhere for economic survival? Maybe a second son denied a share of the family parcel because the eldest son received all? Crossed the Bering Land Bridge between northeast Asia and Alaska in pursuit of game and other resources? Forcibly brought here as slaves? Or, were they simply filled with wanderlust seeking what’s over the next hill ahead? Each and every family has a tale about its journey to America and, in total, those accounts form the American narrative – one essentially framed around the migrant experience.
Those migrants remind us of our past and our forebears, our connection to the old homeland and its ways, who we were and who we came from, and why we are what we are today. And, at the same time, today’s migrants remind us of the future and what we as a united people can achieve while both celebrating our unity and embracing our diversity. Let us never forget that the promise of America lies with its migrants and what they bring to this land.
Happy Independence Day!
R. Mark Frey is a St. Paul, Minnesota attorney who has practiced immigration law exclusively for well-nigh 30 years with an emphasis on asylum, family and marriage-based immigration, naturalization, removal defense, appeals, H-1B visas, and religious workers.
An earlier version of this essay appeared in the June 28, 2017 issue of Asian American Press.