Journeys: Timely New Book Examines Immigrants’ Stories


August 3, 2018

Editor’s note: The following blog post is authored by CHN intern Paige Brigham, a rising senior at Allegheny College.

The story of Ahmed Ahmed began in his home country of Somalia, where his father worked his way out of poverty to provide a comfortable life for a family of ten. As Somalia became a country ridden with war and violence, Ahmed’s family was forced to leave their comfortable life and relocate to a refugee camp in Kenya. Soon after, his family was granted asylum by the U.S. With no savings and lots of hope, they headed for the land of opportunity with a strong belief in the American people and trust in the American ideal of equality. Ahmed writes his story today as a proud and humble graduate of Cornell University and a distinguished Rhodes Scholar, praising his country as “a generous, kind, free, and welcoming nation of immigrants.” He has truly come a long way from the refugee camp in Kenya, and he credits this to the opportunities granted to him by the U.S.

Combat-decorated former Marine Corps officer Zach Iscol partially credits his success during his two tours in Iraq to a courageous translator by the name of Abood Al Khafajee. A native of Iraq, Abood’s loyalty to the Marines was unwavering, going beyond his duty as a translator to ensure their safety. Iscol recalls the time his platoon was hit with a bomb, and Abood risked his life to reach them to ensure their safety. This loyalty proved to be dangerous for Abood and his family, who received severe warnings and threats two years after the Marines’ departure. Just as Abood had done for him, Iscol stopped at nothing to ensure his safety, petitioning members of Congress to grant Abood’s family refuge. Thanks to the efforts of Iscol, Abood and his family were headed for the States a few months later. Today, Abood is survived by his daughters who are following in their father’s footsteps to protect the lives of Americans as an NYPD officer and a future member of the U.S. military.

Elaine Chao is the current Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and former Secretary of the Department of Labor, making her the first Asian-American woman appointed to a Presidential cabinet. Chao’s father immigrated to the U.S. to create a promising future for his wife and three daughters who remained in Taiwan. After three years of hard work, he finally mustered up enough money to bring them to America via a 37-day cargo ship voyage. Despite the difficulties of adapting to a foreign country with very little money, the Chaos worked tirelessly to succeed and give back to the country that provided them so much promise.

Jackie Koppell, a writer and producer, is the product of German and Irish immigrants fleeing Nazi Germany and the potato famine respectively. Her parents and grandparents took the opportunity to be in the U.S. and used it to build a life for themselves while giving back to others—including her mother who tutored inner-city children. Young people may think of it as odd today: referring to a German-Irish family as immigrants. Koppell recognizes this, likening the Irish and German Jews of the last century to Central American and Muslim immigrants today: “people in search of a better life, eager to contribute to the United States in return.” This sentence embodies the story of so many U.S. immigrants present and past.

These are just four of the many remarkable stories of courage, optimism, and triumph demonstrated by immigrants as recounted in Journeys: An American Story. Andrew Tisch was inspired to compile these stories when writing a speech for a swearing-in ceremony for new citizens and becoming awestruck with the significance of each individual’s story. Consistent with the book’s aim to preserve and circulate the history of immigrants, all profits are to be donated to the New-York Historical Society and the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation. This collection of stories—covering immigrants themselves and the families  of figures such as Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, singer Tony Bennett, and more—highlights the remarkability of each individual and reminds us of the value immigrants have added to the U.S. through their determination, innovation, and desire to give back.

The current state of immigration policy has caught the attention of America with the recent actions taken by the current Administration. Amid this outrage, one potential change to immigration policy seems to have been swept under the rug: the diversity visa program. First implemented in the 1990s, the program allots 50,000 green cards annually to those living in countries with low immigration rates to the U.S. such as African and European countries.

The program was reduced in 2000 when Congress lowered the number of admitted immigrants under the program by 5,000. Now President Trump threatens to end the program altogether. The call to end the diversity visa came last fall when Sayfullo Saipov, an immigrant from Uzbekistan here legally through the diversity visa program, was accused of killing eight people when he plowed a rented truck into people walking and cycling on a bike path in Lower Manhattan. Trump criticized it as “a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit or the safety of American people.” However, the President’s words don’t offer much validity. “Winning the lottery” does not guarantee a green card, but simply the opportunity to apply for one. To be admitted, applicants must be vetted and checked against crime and terrorism databases while meeting education or work experience requirements. Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute explains: “there’s nothing peculiar about the diversity visas that make them more vulnerable to admission of terrorists” as compared to other programs.

President Trump’s desire to eliminate a historically sound program based on the story of one man is unconscionable. To this, Andrew Tisch provides 72 counterarguments: a collection of 72 stories about “immigration and American greatness.” Tisch focuses on the individual uniqueness and greatness in each story, emphasizing the inspiring and courageous elements at play. America continues to thrive off the contributions from generations of immigrants, like those of Abood Al Khafajee. Upon arrival, these individuals never balk at the opportunity they have been given and work tirelessly to succeed. Many go on to dedicate their time to giving back based on a feeling of gratitude for the generosity and acceptance the U.S. has shown them. To eliminate the diversity visa program would discourage immigration from remarkable individuals like those in Tisch’s Journeys: An American Story, and we would be the poorer for it