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In 1910 my great-grandmother, Gelsamine Ferrigno, arrived at Ellis Island — a teen bride with her husband and two children desperate to make a better life. The story that has been passed down, confirmed by relatives both here and in Italy, is that the family decided that Gelsamine and Albert were the most likely to succeed so they pooled their resources, put them on a boat to America, said their goodbyes and told them to get work, make money, and send it back to their needy family in Solerno, Italy.
I often think about the elements of what I know of my story: immigrants from Italy, teenagers bearing a family burden, pressure to learn language and culture, permanent goodbyes to everything they ever knew, loneliness, fear.
There are two main reasons I often reminisce on this story in my family history. First, I am eagerly working to support reform to our immigration laws for the immigrants of today.
Our immigration laws are broken and are in dire need of some attention. Families are being separated, a permanent underclass is being kept in the shadows, and our country continues to thrive on the adage “we want your work, we just don’t want you.” It is not just. It is not biblical, and there is no reason for politicians to willfully put politics before the needs of vulnerable people in our communities.