The Huffington Post: SB 1070: How Do You Define American?

April 25th, 2012

The Huffington Post
April 25, 2012
By Jose Antonio Vargas




America, as only America can, constantly renews itself.

That was chief in my mind as the crowded ferry left Battery Park, the southern tip of Manhattan, and headed toward the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I live in New York City. My dear friends Karen and Matt, visiting from Seattle during their daughter Bridget’s spring break, insisted I come along. This was Bridget’s first time seeing Lady Liberty. It was a first for me, too. Though my apartment is just a few subway stops from Battery Park, it was my inaugural pilgrimage to Ellis Island, the country’s first federal immigration station, the “Island of Hopes, Island of Tears” where nearly 1 in 3 Americans can trace their European ancestors during one of the largest migrations in history. In the early 1900s, some 5,000 new immigrants arrived at Ellis Island each day in search of a better life. Most didn’t speak English; they needed translators to pass a basic literacy test. Many had little to no money. All told, between 1892 and 1954, about 12 million people were inspected, registered and welcomed to America.

Nearly 60 years after the island’s closing, America is faced with the migration of another 12 million people — this time immigrants without papers, not just from Europe but from all around the world, especially Mexico. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court reviews Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070, which at the time of its passing was the strictest anti-illegal immigration bill in modern U.S. history. If the high court does not strike down the controversial provisions at the heart of the Arizona law, anyone who’s suspected of being undocumented can be stopped and asked for papers; police, without a warrant, can arrest anyone they believe is deportable; and immigrants without papers are guilty of a state crime.

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