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Who Should Enter the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy in Historical Perspective

On Thursday, March 29th, we went to the Thwing Center Ballroom at CWRU for another program pertaining to the Cleveland Humanities Festival titled "Who Should Enter the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy in Historical Perspective" wherein Professor John Grabowski, CWRU's Krieger-Mueller Joint Professor in History and Historian and Senior Vice President for Research and Publications at the Western Reserve Historical Society, covered important happenings from colonial to modern times in the space of an hour and did a very good job with it at that.

He started by discussing the dichoctomy of "the concept of 'America' as a place of freedom for all" which dates "to the nation's orgins and plays as a counterbalance to the concept of 'population' as simply a resource." In other words, many of our original settlers were assets in the form of redemptioners, indentured servants, and chattel slaves while others came to prosper and/or escape repression as well as for idealistic reasons.

From there, he moved on and briefly (don't forget he only had one hour but he seemed so knowledgeable that he could have talked for twelve hours easily) talked about such matters as what the U.S. Constitution actually says about immigration (very little); the naturalization laws of 1790 (amended in 1795 and 1798) that attempted to establish requirements for citizenship for newcomers in ways that benefited the people already residing here; restrictions imposed upon immigration due to religion, race, and political radicalism over the years; the value of an immigrant to industry which according to Andrew Carnegie was $1,500.00; and how the federal government finally assumed official responsibility for governing the flow of immigration in 1882.

Soon we moved on to an overview of the quota systems of the 1920's and a section called "Welcoming to Citizenship" which covered the Chinese being made eligible for citizenship in 1943 as well as Asian Indians in 1946 and how the 1952 McCarren-Walter Act dropped all citizenship restrictions while maintaining quotas.

Near the last, Professor Grabowski showed a slide with the heading "The Open Door Opens Wider" which had information about the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the 1980 Refugee Act, the 1986 Immigration and Control Act, the 1990 Immigration Act and Diversity Lottery and the 2014 Executive Orders regarding undocumented immigrants and deportation.

He also showed a slide of himself on a ship entering the harbor of New York with the Statue of Liberty slowly coming into view. He said that it is impossible not to be moved by such a sight and (having been born here) he could only imagine what it must mean to an immigrant.

As for the future, Professor Grabowski contended (and we agree) that peoplekind has been moving since Adam and Eve and it is an element of the human condition that binds us together so the ambition to immigrate to the U.S. in whatever way possible will be ongoing-wall between the U.S. and Mexico, which already exists in stretches, or no wall.

On this day, Professor Grabowski was introduced by Professor Susanne Vees-Gulani, Associate Director of the Baker-Nord Center for Humanities, who talked about her own and her family's experience immigrating to the United States from Germany at different times. She shared with us an experience that she had had in 2006 when she drove through the Cleveland Cultural Gardens on Martin Luther King Blvd. with her young children who pointed to the Indian flag and said, "that's dad's flag!' and then to the German flag and said, "that's your flag!" which is an excellent illustration of how the Gardens binds all of us in Cleveland together.

We spoke with Professor Vees-Gulani briefly before the program and she told us that the response to this year's Humanities Festival has been "tremendous" and that no one thought 18-19 months ago when immigration was selected as the key topic that it would prove to be so timely. 


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

Kwasi Bediako