Slightly off-topic, and yet, highly relevant today considering the hotly debated Arizona immigration laws.

I spend a fair amount of time traveling. This past week, I hopped a Southwest flight to Orlando. The problem with flying to me is I can’t stand to be bored, and flights are boredom. Admittedly, being on a flight full of families bound for Disney World for summer vacation via Southwest is somewhat less boring than a red-eyed Delta full of IT execs (at least the pilots and flight attendants are cheery and entertaining), but still…I have to sit still and the only thing entertaining me is the hope that the person next to me doesn’t elbow me while I sip a cup of coffee. Yup. I prefer roadtrips, but don’t tell my employer that. (I spent a year one month on a roadtrip to New Jersey for work.)

While in-flight, I read the July 2010 issue of Spirit, Southwest’s magazine. There were two highly relevant and appropriate articles for anyone wanting to understand more about citizenship, immigration, and the push-pull reasons for immigration. (To  me, immigration is a blade with two sharp and equally important sides for those to decide to leave their homeland. The first side is what I refer to as the “push”–what drives an immigrant away from his homeland. The second side is what I refer to as the “pull”–what attracts the immigrant to the country of his choice.)

The first article, “The New Americans” profiled newly naturalized American citizens and their backgrounds and reasons for immigrating to the States. While my family research focuses mainly on immigrants of Polish and German ancestry from the Prussian and Russian partitions of Poland, many of these profiles struck a chord with me. Many Catholics from the German-dominated Prussia of the 1870s and 1880s left in droves, sometimes nearly entire villages at a time, because Bismark began deporting Jesuit priests from the country and arrested those in the pulpits or within lay religious communities who discussed political topics or dared remark against the current political climate. Poles from the Russian partitions of Poland often came and left the US a number of times before settling permanently in the US. The economy of Russian-dominated Poland was harsh and extreme during the early 1900s through the cold war, and many farmlands were confiscated by the government and men were forcibly conscripted into the Russian army. In order to provide for their families, many Polish men during this period would come to the states and work manual labor or menial jobs. During this period, the work available to these men was usually extremely dangerous (I’ve found quite a bit of evidence of industrial accidents in my research–a great-uncle died at 29 due to an accidental amputation) or physically demanding (coal-mining). The men would then bring their families to the States or return to Poland for a time before settling in the States permanently and becoming naturalized citizen. Families were often split once a group of siblings decided to permanently settle in the US, so that may be a reason men would travel back and forth between America and Europe.

While the ethnic backgrounds in the profiles provided in The New Americans were very different than my ancestors, many commonalities still ring true for immigrants from any country.

Kassegn Befekadu immigrated here from Ethiopia in 2006. Born deaf in Addis Ababa, Kassegn faced large challenges in his life in Ethiopia. Through a sign interpreter, Kassegan told the reporter that “There are no rights there for people like me. Life was very, very hard.” After his immigration, he told the reporter, that he found the US provided much tolerance and the support he needed. “I have so many opportunities here. I can get an education. I can drive and work.”

Narek Bznouni is a teenager living in California. His family is of Armenian ethnicity and they emigrated here when Narek was a year old. His parents fled Armenia in 1992, leaving behind oppressive living conditions but also professional careers. Narek’s father was the CEO of a business. After arriving in the US, his parents delivered newspapers and then took jobs in local casinos. Narek mentioned that this fall from white-collar to blue-collar status was always in the back of his father’s mind, but that he made peace with it. The entire Bznouni family sans Narek’s father was naturalized this past May. Narek’s father passed away in 2003.  They celebrated with an American-style barbecue.

Roya Dur Mohammad was born in Afghanistan and grew up in Islamabad, Pakistan. As a child, she recalled her life as good, “when my father was with us.” But in 2000, Roya and her mother, brother, and sister were granted refugee status in the States and settled in Las Vegas. What drove them here was the fact her father left the family. When he left, the family was very poor. Roya enrolled in school in the US and found adjustment difficult: language barriers while completing high school and driving. Women don’t drive in Pakistan. When asked what she loved about American life, she stated it was her Honda Civic and her liberty. “After 5 o’clock [in Pakistan], you cannot go outside because it’s dangerous. Here, 24/7, I go when I want to go.”

Do these push-pull reasons for immigration really change over time? Political climates change, economic climates change, and places that people leave change and the places they immigrate to change. (The US isn’t the only country many immigrants decide to settle!) Have you found anything in common with today’s immigrants to the US with your ancestors who immigrated here? Has that weighed in on your views regarding the Arizona immigration laws? Has that made you consider different aspects to the “Constitutionality” of this law?

I’ll keep my thoughts on the Arizona law to myself. However, immigration has occurred throughout the history of civilization. Immigration changes the face, flavor, and culture of every nation. Culture is fluid, it is never static. To me, the basic push for immigration is personal freedom, the right for self-expression, and the fundamental need for human beings to remove or leave behind physical, economic, and intellectual restraints. The pull in an immigrant’s mind is the country he decides to move to shows  a lack of physical, economic, and intellectual restraints and the immigrant has a desire for personal growth and well being. Does the Arizona law aim to restrict the pull that the United States has for immigrants or does it ignore the push that drives immigrants here?

Spirit also publisihed an article entitled “Citizenship in Five Parts” that discusses the hardest part of being a citizen in a democracy–the fact we have to share the democracy. More on that later…

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