AuthorHiggins, Maeve

Since I moved to New York City five years ago, four of my sisters have gotten married. To four different men. I'm delighted for them but found myself grumbling about the travel on my flight back to New York after the last wedding in early August.

Then I glanced at the news headlines on my phone.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is detaining more people than ever. Another migrant drowned trying to reach El Paso. A Senate committee passed a bill making it harder for Central Americans to apply for asylum.

I remembered then just how easy it is for me to flit in and out of the United States. That's because I'm European and because I'm white. I'm welcome here.

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, confirmed as much when he rewrote the words on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge"--that is, require some form of public assistance.

In my own case, as an immigrant from Ireland, I filled out some forms and was granted an O-1 visa without much fuss. Now I can come and go, complaining only about jet lag and legroom.

Consider, too, the story of Annie Moore, a seventeen-year-old girl who left my hometown of Cobh, County Cork, back in 1891 to become the first immigrant through the gates of Ellis Island. According to some versions of her arrival story, Moore was deliberately selected by officials there to be the white, English-speaking face of immigration.

Annie was an unaccompanied minor, traveling with her two little brothers. She had no passport, no visa, no particular skills, but she was welcomed with open arms and reunited with her parents.

Of course, you can see the contrast between her treatment then and that of her equivalent today, a Guatemalan girl who has traveled thousands of miles to seek safety and shelter in the United States. The latter is not only less likely to be welcomed, she may be forced to stay in Mexico or detained in a dangerously crowded camp at the U.S. border before being deported.

The United States' immigration policies have always been racist. Today, we have the Travel Ban 3.0, indefinitely barring people from seven countries. Back then, they had the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which eventually banned almost every Chinese person and many other Asian people from entering the United States. This legislation lasted decades, having been pushed through by Senator John Franklin Miller...

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