Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

In a land of immigrants we all have a story

Post by Brian O'Neill on Sep. 30, 2012 at 10:16 pm with 13 Comments »
October 11, 2012 7:26 pm

Last installment in a series on illegal immigration

In this nation of immigrants, most people can count on one hand the number of generations since their family tree found American soil. The struggle to immigrate and integrate into America is an ongoing narrative.

Of course not all arrival’s come through our front door. The Trib’s comprehensive article, describing Oscar Campos Estrada’s journey from illegal entry to a deportation trial, is a peek inside the world of illegal immigration. It is a bizarre, contradictory reality that resembles the land Alice found when she fell down the rabbit hole.

My last immigration column, in which I described working alongside federal agents in pursuit of gang members (who were also illegal aliens), was from the opposite perspective of Campos Estrada. My own family’s story, however, shares some overlap.

My father was born in rural Ireland and eventually made his way to the U.S. as a young man in his 20’s. The first leg of his trip ended in Toronto where his boat docked. From there he took jobs as an iron worker, working west to Vancouver, B.C. and then north to the Arctic Circle. Somewhere along the way he met my mother, a bank teller from Vancouver.

Iron workers on the job/

It was dangerous work – four of his friends fell to their death from a Vancouver bridge now known as the Iron Workers Memorial - and he was eventually sidelined in a Seattle hospital with a back injury.  They finally settled down in San Francisco, a town quickly filling with new arrivals from Italy, the Philippines and Ireland. Their children blended into the city’s countless Catholic schools, where nuns ruled the classroom with a religious fervor for education that was often delivered at the end of a ruler.

If our bond as first generation Americans had a darker aspect, it was the unspoken fear of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The INS was not a suitable topic for conversation, except in whispered tones outside church or at family gatherings. Since I had been born in a San Francisco hospital, this was never a personal fear. For my extended family, however, this became a problem.

My father was one of thirteen children, so our house was often a way station for itinerant Irish cousins. Uncles and aunts took turns taking in these young people, mostly men, who would immediately find work swinging a hammer. Was it coincidence that INS agents were more apt to drop in on an Irish contractor’s job site? Or that certain cousins would make themselves scarce whenever a government car pulled up? I have no answers, only guesses. I can say that my father always, ALWAYS kept his green card handy.

Stories like these were common, but none so upsetting as an incident which occurred years after I moved from home. I received an alarming phone call from my mother, who told me in a quavering voice that several armed men were banging on the front door. I told her to call the police, then sat in helpless panic seven hundred miles away, waiting for her to call me back.

The men were INS agents. They had banged loudly on our front door, had yelled out an Irish name (unknown to anyone in my family) and had demanded entry. They eventually realized they were at the wrong address and left without apology. My parents lost a lot of faith in their new country that day, and our broken door was replaced with iron bars.

Though signs such as “Irish need not apply” have long since disappeared, prejudice against a shifting demographic of immigrants exists. It affects the discourse on immigration, and it remains a divisive topic. And a national problem.

As a nation of immigrants, we deserve a clear and visionary immigration policy that reflects our global origins as well as our freedoms that are wholly American.

Leave a comment Comments → 13
  1. mizusugimura says:

    Brian – An illuminating story. While both sets of my Japanese immigrant grandparents were legal – they were not allowed be the US government to become citizens until about three years before I was born (mid-1950’s) because Asian’s like themselves were considered unfit by our government to be citizenship material.

    During World War II my parents then only teens (despite like yourself their certified birth on US soil) and grandparents were imprisoned during WW II for looking like the enemy.

    The prejudice surrounding immigrants/immigration that you articulate was a irrefutably part a package of issues laid by the feet of my relatives resulting in their forcible removal from the lives they were trying to build in this country by the US military prior to bombing of Pearl Harbor.

    When the war was declared over millions of their fellow Americans felt safe to sleep soundly once again in their beds, members of my family would and some to this very day can be observed self-editing and unable to stop taking an occasional look over their shoulder sixty years later because there are moments World War II isn’t completely over.

    Trust and security taken away may not only be difficult to regain but impossible to fully restore. With my family, their faces and the very tone of their skin and hair became over time black and white striped prison coveralls that could never be completely shed. I was raised by people who conveyed to me a belief they could not shake that Japanese-Americans could still be targets, so in order to completely safe it was prudent, even necessary to stay low. We and they will never know what was and has been lost.

    However I share your concern and hope that better minds can be employed and more thoughtful comprehensive thinking can provide the framework for a fairer policy and a brighter future. Because surely what we have today cannot be considered to be our very best.

  2. We are supposed to be a land of Americans, illegal immigrants are not same as legal ones, they deserve to be sent home. Past illegals from Europe were rightfully sent back, we should enforce our laws instead of making excuses.

  3. Brian O'Neill says:

    Mizu- Thanks for sharing that personal anecdote. Internment was arguably the low point of our nation’s response to immigration and a lesson that we will, hopefully, not forget.

    kb7777- Thanks for the comment. Your logic is sound, but if we enacted a no tolerance approach there would be major repercussions: rising food costs, labor unrest, huge public outcry from different sectors. Hopefully, there is a middle road, though we have yet to find it.

  4. Sroldguy says:

    Please pass the murphies…

  5. Brian O'Neill says:

    davidb63- If you are the history buff you imply, please recall that the Japanese arrived in an immigration wave prior to WWII. Our country has often responded poorly to new ethnicities that arrive in large groups, including the Chinese, Irish, Italians and the Japanese, though not necessarily in that order. Immigration had a lot to do with our decision to intern an ethnicity whose recent arrival prevented their integration. The Germans, on the other hand, have been on the scene since the birth of our country. Germans were not interred, though it could be argued that racial prejudice also played a part in that decision.

    Not all of our country’s population is made up of Americans. Years before my parents, aunts and uncles got their citizenship, they were hard-working, tax-paying holders of green cards. In other words, they were immigrants.

  6. Inthemiddle says:

    I must have missed the part where Brian even mentioned George Washington. I also missed the reference to Native Americans being immigrants. If the Japanese who were intered during WW II were not immigrants, they must have been Americans. Seems to me, locking up Americans without due process would be a violation of their civil rights. Rights that were conveniently suspended.

    I do not understand why a person of your obvious intelligence would waste their time correcting what you see as a flawed post by a mere blogger. I would think your time would be better spent teaching your PHD history classes at Harvard and Yale. You should however refrain from name calling, us Libs know we are dumb and do not want our feelings hurt. To stoop so low is beneath your IQ.

  7. Brian O'Neill says:

    I don’t speak through right wing, left wing or any other mouthpiece, davidb63. Nor do I waste in a discussion with those who use deregatory language (special bus, really?) and who intentionally distort my point of view.

    Take your trash talk elsewhere, please.

  8. Brittanicus says:


    In my personal opinion I don’t think Mitt Romney’s discussion about 47 percent of people are paying no taxes was a misstep. Along with the American citizens who are “freeloaders” the scroungers, illegal aliens fit into these same criteria, thanks to both political parties. None of our immigration policies are going to matter, if Obama returns for a second term? The only people it’s going to financially affect the taxpayers and the hundreds of billions of dollars to be extracted forcibly from their taxes.

    EXAMPLE, LOS ANGELES COUNTY – Year-end closing 2011 figures from the Department of Public Social Services reported that over $646 million in welfare and food stamp benefits were issued to illegal alien parents for their native-born children, announced Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. The $646.2 million consisted of $258 million in CalWORKs (welfare) and $388 million in Food Stamps) — a $21 million increase over the previous year. “With the $550 million for public safety and nearly $500 million for healthcare, the total cost for illegal aliens to this one County taxpayer exceeds $1.6 billion dollars a year,” said Antonovich. “These costs do not include the hundreds of millions of dollars for education.” Californians need to contact their Representative, specifically governor Brown and the Liberal State assembly and demand no more illegal alien pandering, or Californian taxpayers will be taxed even more from now to doomsday.

    We have pregnant mothers legally entered the United States on a tourist visa. Then after a few months after giving birth at a county hospital, returned to some foreign country with her newly born child in tow–bearing a U.S. passport. Then at a later age the child arrives in the United States, when it was time to claim her birthright as a U.S. citizen demanding a free public education, free health care. This is what the opposition call “birth tourism” and the practice is solidly deep-rooted in the Los Angeles area, using so-called maternity homes catering to expectant mothers from Asia openly publicized in San Francisco Area. Now good old governor Brown of California, is going to issue Drivers licenses to the eligible illegal aliens who receives special status under Obama’s “Dream Act” policy.

    Lying to immigration officers on entry is a federal crime, Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement stated, but is difficult to prove. She said that to her knowledge no one has been prosecuted in California for visa fraud in relation to birth tourism. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C., group that supports tighter immigration controls, is among those who argue for restrictions to help guard against the practice. “The idea that visitors from abroad who intentionally come to give birth to U.S. citizens would have been considered absurd by the framers of the 14th amendment,” Some advocates for stricter immigration controls, such as NumbersUSA, Federation for American Immigration Reform have lobbied to have an amendment to the 14th Amendment added– an action Krikorian believes may be “too drastic.” He suggests a middle ground: that if a child born to foreign parents in the United States was still living in the country 10 years later, he or she would be automatically naturalized. Other organizations believe that when this law was first enacted, it was to supply citizenship to the slaves after the Civil War. That an amendment would only allow citizenship to a child, if one parent was already a citizen or a U.S. serviceman could claim their child gain citizenship status.

    President Obama is sure to enact another blanket amnesty as Reagan did in 1986. Only chance to stave-off any of immigration policies is to vote as many TEA Party legislators into Congress as possible. God help us from the two corrupt political parties if we do not? Better also be alert for Democratic Voter fraud now until November, because ACORN is NOT dead. The TEA PARTY members will be carefully overseeing elections, watching for voting irregularities. The blue states are purposely unconcerned for none citizens voting in any government election, at any level and even absentee ballots are open to fraudulent manipulation. Any none-citizen whether illegal alien voting or anybody else should be held accountable and should face a penal punishment.

    The TEA PARTY (THE PEOPLE’S) PARTY should not be defined as just white people; they are not, they are millions of Americans of every nationality and skin color. My chapter has Hispanics, Black people, Asians from every walk of life. We are “The People “frustrated with the corruption in both parties. The Liberal oriented mainstream media have constantly lied about the agenda of the TEA PARTY. The TEA PARTY are moderate Constitutionalists, not the hard core Marxist-Communist-Socialists entrenched amongst the Democrats who want open borders and no laws to stop illegal migrants and immigrants from thrashing the U.S. taxpayers safety net.

    If you want higher taxes; higher gas prices at the pump; an archaic tax system that benefits the privileged in both parties; a ever growing federal government with rules and regulations that inhibit new business creation; and a president that is giving even more to the “freeloader” parasites that cohabit with the illegal alien invaders who are draining the state reservoirs of money. Obama’s “Political Correctness” is causing major problems and effecting foreign policy. He has alienated Israel to some extent with his Social ideology, he refuses to us the term “Terrorist” and he still wants to keep transmitting taxpayers money in huge amounts money to Egypt and many countries and not exclusively in the middle east that hate American guts. . It also seems that Obama is in accord with the corrupt United Nations, who not only allow animal-terrorists as the arch enemy to America and Israel as the President of Iran to spew out his vitriol garbage, but the UN also wants to globally tax every country. What our Congress should demand by American voters is get the UN out of our face, and cut off the 10 billion dollars we send to them.

    As I am covered by medicare myself, I learned today that under the controversial ObamaCare directive, some of the latest news that has developed from the conservative press is that seniors on Medicare are going to have their federal payments cut, so that money can be used to cover the cost of younger people? I think that every older American should ask questions about this, by contacting their local politician. However, I wouldn’t bother talking to any Democrat, as I think they will say the opposite.

    The 9th circuit court is run by a bunch of Liberal judges, who interpret the laws according to their plan, not to the edicts of the Constitution. If something isn’t done in the next presidency, America will be further overrun with –unfettered poverty. It’s still not a felony to cross illegally into this sovereign nation and as I see it and millions who are involved in the TEA PARTY, the laws have been ignored for years. Why should citizens or lawful immigrants with papers have to compete with illegal aliens? I just know America is in serious trouble with a 16 trillion dollar deficit, and no real enforcement to stop more human financial encumbrances entering through our borders or jetting in from a foreign country. It’s a real catch 22 situation with the winners being businesses using cheap labor, selling more TV and household appliances, food and a whole retinue of things needed to live. They go to the bank loaded down with their dollars, but the taxpayers must foot the bills for free health care, free children’s schooling to K-12, government housing and other special programs, while citizens-residents pay the immense bill.

    I am sure about is the plan of the TEA PARTY if they can eject many Democrats and Republican incumbents and replace them? It’s already happening and by replacing incumbents in the Republican Party can politically persist that the “LEGAL WORKFORCE ACT (E-VERIFY) and the BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP LAW” finds passage and enacted to restrain more illegal alien invaders. They bring their unborn babies here, to live as parasites of the U.S. taxpayer. The children of illegal aliens had no say in coming to America, but by the enactment of the BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP BILL, this incredulous expensive issue for taxpayers is resolved. It’s wrong in the majority of Americans minds that people who wait for years with honest attentions to come to his sovereign country, while others violate our nations laws and not only walk scot free, and are able to use fraudulent Social Security numbers to be hired for jobs. This is especially significant when millions of citizens-residents live in poverty, because there is no work available.

  9. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Brittanicus. In the future I recommend brevity – more people are likely to read it.

  10. dankuykendall says:

    Actually David, the Native Americans did immigrate from Asia. So no such thing as native American. Check your facts! The land bridge (Beringa)from Asia was the means of entry, not a ship, but immigrants just the same (even if there isn’t anyone there to check the box off as someone entered).

  11. Pecksbadboy says:

    Brian, I am sorry for what happened your family as I am sorry for every police raid that went to the wrong house too and so should you.

    Unfortunately you are confusing history and legal immigrants with the “we need them here because they are illegal to be here and we can pay them less than minimum wage” for corporate farmers, hotel chains, fast food restaurants or maid services.

    I really do not understand your argument.

  12. BlaineCGarver says:

    Brian, your family had problems with bigots, and racists, but, they were LEGAL. I don’t know why that is such a hard concept to understand. I personally want all the illegals out, and they can take their minor anchor kids with them. At the very least, all aid, and welfare, SSI, etc for illegals to stop at once. It’s perfectly clear to me that both political parties are trying desperately to wiggle between Legality, and retaining the huge voting of Legal and Illegal Hispanics, and others.

  13. People can’t greet each other on the street.
    The foundation of a society is giving directions
    to a good burger joint.

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