I Am An Immigrant : Celebrating Immigrant Heritage Month

I come from immigrant stock. My great grandparents on both sides of my family fled from Eastern Europe. They moved here on boats with nothing more than rags in their pockets, and made a life. That’s why so many people come here: to live the dream in the US.  I have proudly spent the last two decades helping amazing immigrants from all over the world live this same dream by becoming legal residents and citizens of this great country.

Immigrants have always been attracted to the United States

This statement may sound as obvious as looking out my office window at the Statue of Liberty, in the distance, but it is nonetheless fact.

Whether we are studying prejudice against:

  1. the German immigrants in the 18th Century
  2. the Chinese immigrants in the 19th Century
  3. the Irish immigrants in the 20th Century or
  4. the Mexican immigrants in the 21st Century

Just to give four notable examples, there is one common theme that runs through the history of immigrants:

Immigrants want liberty.  Economic freedom. Religious freedom. Political freedom.

People move here to escape all kinds of situations in the world, whether it be horrible poverty, oppressive governments, or simply to find a better future for their children.

How many people have immigrant heritage?

According to a 2011 Congressional Research Service Report, 12.5% of the population was foreign born.  The same report contains data that show how in the 19th century, the number of immigrants never rose above 15%.

In our home state of New Jersey we have seen a very interesting movement of immigrants.

A recent study by a journalist in March 2015 showed that New Jersey residents are leaving our state in large numbers, but the departure is being countered by the arrival of immigrants, resulting in little change to our state’s overall population.

As the article noted, between 2013 and 2014, approximately 55,000 New Jerseyans moved away.

There are three reasons why:

  • retirement
  • finding a state with a lower cost of living
  • locating employment in states with greater financial opportunity

However, as those 55,000 folks relocated, about 51,000 immigrants have come to New Jersey. This phenomenon is a repeat of New Jersey’s huge expansion a century ago.

So, as we head toward Independence Day, and while you proudly wear Crimson White & Indigo, and sing America the Beautiful, never forget your roots, because we are all immigrants, except for the Native Americans.

Written by: Harlan York

Immigration Attorney Harlan York is Former Chair, Immigration Section, NJ State Bar Association and Former Co-Chair, NY State Bar Association CFLS Immigration Committee. Mr. York appeared on National Television on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Primer Impacto on Univision, as well as Telemundo, NBC, and PBS. He was honored as First Ever Immigration Lawyer of The Year in NJ by Best Lawyers.

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