By Qudsia Jafree
Senior Policy Associate, Racial Justice & Civil Rights, YWCA USA
“Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history.”
– Oscar Handlin, 1952 Pulitzer Prize winner for “The Uprooted“
Immigration reform is a major focus in the news and of policymakers at the state level and here in Washington, DC – particularly today. The history of immigration impacts all of us, especially women and children. Perhaps you can trace your family lineage back several hundred years, to when your European ancestors were settlers fleeing religious persecution or famine. Or maybe you can trace it back to just a few decades ago, when your family migrated to the U.S. for a new life, or in hopes of reuniting with family members already present. What these two stories have in common is a rich, shared history of migration that essentially defines what the United States stands for: leaving behind home, family, and all that is familiar to go a place unknown that might offer new opportunities for work and education, and freedom from persecution in a society that values the pursuit of justice for all. Historically, America offered the prospect of freedom and success for any immigrant who worked hard enough for it.
Today, we’ve lost sight of our shared narrative as Americans who have welcomed immigrants – old and new – to our shores for centuries. Instead, we find ourselves mired in a battle over semantics, in which some feel threatened by immigrants who they perceive as weakening our economy and taking away jobs from others. At the YWCA, we don’t see it this way.