Seattle Times (Opinion)
By Kirk Johnson
May 16, 2017
THROUGHOUT the presidential campaign and his first 100 days in office, President Donald Trump’s signature issue has been opposition to immigration, reflected in his proposed immigration ban, “extreme vetting” procedures, Mexican border wall and attempted crackdown on sanctuary cities such as Seattle.
Yet a spring-break trip to New York City with my wife and 12-year-old son convinced me that Trump’s anti-immigration obsession ignores a key factor that fueled American dynamism in the 20th Century and continues to contribute to our economic and social vitality.
The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Immigration Museum were trip highlights. I’ve always understood the statue stands as a symbol of freedom around the world, but I did not appreciate its full power until seeing the monument in person.
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Kirk Johnson is a land use planner who lives in Mount Vernon and formerly worked at the University of Washington’s Northwest Policy Center.
Rising 305 feet above the Hudson River, the copper-clad statue was a gift from France intended to symbolize the ideals of freedom and liberty and recognize U.S.-French cooperation during the American Revolution.
Completed in 1886, the statue took on new meaning as a growing number of immigrants poured into the U.S. Between 1892 and the 1920s, Ellis Island served as the entry point for some 12 million newcomers, many seeing the Statue of Liberty as their first image of America.
Like today, those immigrants fled oppression, war, religious persecution and poverty. Almost all who arrived at Ellis Island were admitted; only 2 percent were turned away, due to illness or political concerns.
It’s estimated that more than 40 percent of all Americans can trace their family history to an immigrant who passed through Ellis Island.
The powerful story of U.S. immigration is reflected in New York’s impressive diversity of languages, and ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
We stayed at a rental apartment in Harlem, a neighborhood first settled by Dutch immigrants that later became a hub of African-American life and culture. Our host was a young African-American physician who practices in the same hospital where she was born.
During the presidential campaign, candidate Trump portrayed American “inner city neighborhoods” as virtual wastelands: “Poverty. Rejection. Horrible education. No housing, no homes, no ownership. Crime levels that nobody has seen.”
By contrast, we found Harlem to be a vibrant neighborhood full of restaurants, shops, schools, residences and families with children. One evening we walked home from the subway at 11:30 p.m. feeling perfectly safe.
Reflecting on our trip, I find it ironic that Trump comes from New York City — his grandfather arrived there from Germany in 1885 — yet his attacks on immigration, the Muslim religion, and people of color generally threaten many of the key factors that have made that city and this country so dynamic.
On a trip intended largely as an education for my son, I found myself gaining a deeper appreciation for the fact that diversity continues to be one of our nation’s greatest strengths.
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