Ever since the first days of the Republic – when Benjamin Franklin feared the United States would turn into a German-speaking nation and the Constitution disallowed anyone not born on these shores from becoming President – immigration has played an important and sometimes contentious role in our national life. The deepest and widest impact of immigration can be found, of course, in our vast forests of family trees. But the contribution of individual immigrants to American society, culture, economy and public life is immesurable.
In a special, pre-recorded Off the Page originating from Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca as part of the 2012 Spring (W)rites Finger Lakes Literary Festival, a panel of writers and legal experts and an audience including several immigrants tells about the pathways into the USA and the barriers that may be encountered. They also shared stories of coming to America and read poetry that pointed up the cosmopolitan nature of American society and the cross-currents of our history.
Panelists included Stephen Yale-Loehr, immigration attorney with the Miller Mayer law firm in Ithaca, author of several books and many professional papers on immigration law, and coordinator of “Green Card Stories“, a new coffee-table style book of photos and biographical sketches that present the range of experience of individuals from many parts of the world seeking the coveted document that would allow them to live and work in the United States.
Also Gail Holst-Warhaft, a native of Australia who holds several positions at Cornell University including adjunct professor of comparative literature. She has translated many literary works from Greek and is now in her second term as the poet-laureate of Tompkins County. Ms. Holst-Warhaft edited and published “Far From Home: An Anthology of Poems by Immigrant Poets to Ithaca“.
And Jay Leeming of Ithaca, a nationally-recognized poet, founder and editor of the journal “Rowboat – poetry in translation”.
The broadcast does cover the legal complexities of gaining American citizenship. “Immigration is the second-most complicated branch of U.S. law,” according to Stephen Yale-Loehr, “[and] tax law is first.” His law firm is now handling about a thousand immigration cases. The difficulty and risk for foreigners seeking to settle in America was illustrated by Nicholas Capous, a Greek merchant seaman who jumped ship and was given 29 days to get out of the country. Alone, almost broke and speaking rudimentary English he was unable to find work but created a job for himself as a painter and soon was hiring others. As he tells it now (in easily flowing English) it is another instance of an immigrant’s energy unchained in a new land.
Photo courtesy of Alex via Flickr.