While celebrating our wedding anniversary my wife and I had the opportunity to spend a week in New York City. It was an entertaining and enjoyable week but my personal highlight wasn't found in Times Square or Central Park but on Liberty and Ellis Islands.
Approaching Liberty Island and seeing the Statue of Liberty in person was a very moving and majestic experience. As we toured the Island I couldn't help thinking of all those immigrants burdened with awkward possessions, scared young children and the harrowing memory of a very difficult transatlantic journey, welcomed to their new home by lady liberty. We heard moving accounts of the emotional first sight of the statue. Tears streaming, emotions apparent and dreams realized
From Liberty Island we toured Ellis Island the actual processing facility for arriving immigrants to the U.S. between 1892 and 1954. During peak periods of immigration this facility served over one thousand immigrants a day. Each was scrutinized for disease or disability as the long line of hopeful new arrivals made their way up the steep stairs to the great, echoing Registry Room. Over 100 million Americans can trace their ancestry in the United States to a man, woman, or child whose name passed from a steamship manifest sheet to an inspector's record book.
One such individual was my great grand father Cyril O'Reilly who emigrated from Ireland to that very facility. His name was on the registry and as my wife and I read it I felt a sense of pride in his perseverance and courage in leaving his native country to come to the U.S. for a better life. It was a difficult trip and I am sure at times he doubted his decision but today it's impact for good has influenced generations. The effort, the work, the sacrifice was worth it.
As I stood in the great Registry Room on Ellis Island and I reflected on what all of this meant it caused me to think of another immigrant to this country who also had to sacrifice and work.
A few years ago I represented a young man from Cambodia who at the age of 4 years emigrated with his parents to the U.S. Subsequently, the family started a business, bought a home, kids went to school and their American experience culminated with U.S. citizenship, that is, all but this young man.
Too busy, he never bothered to take the step towards citizenship and now was facing deportation. Incarcerated in an overcrowded holding facility and not wanting to fight the system this young man was ready to give up and expressed such to the Immigration Judge. When all seemed lost his father asked the court for permission to be heard and his request was granted.
His father in broken but articulate English recounted for his son how the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia killed his whole family. That he had carried him and his sister at night over the course of seven days through rough terrain in an attempt to leave Cambodia safely. He knew that if he were caught it would spell certain death for him and his family but that it was worth it because life in the U.S. was worth it. He finished his statement by saying that at many points along the way he thought of giving up but he knew that he had to fight on for the good of his family and now he was asking his son to do the same thing.
With tears clearly apparent the boy told the judge that he wanted to change his plea and fight the deportation because, as his father said, it is worth it.
There are many reasons for coming to the U.S. and today immigrants face the same type of difficulties as those who preceded them. But like those who traversed great waters and even greater tribulations the end result is worth it.
If you are here in the U.S. and undocumented or out of status see an immigration attorney and take whatever steps necessary to legalize your stay here no matter how difficult it may seem because millions who have preceded you will testify that it is worth it.