Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

The identity of our country as a “nation of immigrants” is at risk. It has been at risk in one way or another for over a century, but we are at a critical juncture with the upcoming election and the repeated failure of congress to pass any meaningful legislation. Even more frustrating are the lengthy processing times, lack of visas and legal pathways to bring immigrants to the U.S., and an upcoming significant increase in filing fees. Legally migrating to the U.S. is becoming more and more difficult.

Over the past couple years, I’ve been thinking a lot about our nation’s identity. Are we truly a nation of immigrants? If so, why does it take so many a decade or longer to become permanent residents? If so, why is our asylum system constantly under attack? If so, why are the government processing times for basic benefits or applications taking months? If so, why are we so unforgiving of immigrants who wind up in removal proceedings?

These questions and many others inspired me to start thinking about how we, as immigration lawyers, can do our small part to try and shift the public narrative from immigrants being a strain or not beneficial to our country. We can do this by sharing our own stories or the stories of our family members who have been through the process. We can inspire our clients to do the same. Showing how this nation opened the door for our families and how we have used that opportunity to create jobs, wealth, and security.

On March 12, 2022, I was at the Tucson Festival of Books with my daughter, Emma. She was 14 years old at the time and a typical contrarian teenager. She challenged anything and everything I said. Being surrounded by so many authors, I felt a swell of inspiration. I began having delusions of becoming an author myself. I turned to Emma and quipped, “I could write a book!” Emma immediately snapped back, “you will never write a book, you don’t even read books!” She was right, I don’t read for pleasure much, but I sure can write.

So, challenge accepted Emma!

I went home and started to ruminate about what I would write about. Immigration? The Holocaust? Xenophobia? Antisemitism? How about all those subjects? And that’s exactly what I did. I wound up writing a book titled The Last Survivor: Lessons From the Past and the Dying Dream of Freedom. I based the book around my grandparents, Esther and Harry, who survived the Holocaust and their perilous journey from Nazi imprisonment to the shores of New York. I wanted to show how they were similar to immigrants today. Guided by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, they came to the U.S. with nothing more than hope. The U.S. provided them with one primary thing: opportunity. They built a life here, raised kids, became part of their community, and instilled in all of us a sense that we should celebrate our differences, learn from each other, and give back as often as possible.

We all should be sharing these narratives. Our clients should be speaking up if they are comfortable doing so. Memorializing these tales is so important: to inspire, to teach, and to inform. To all my immigration attorney colleagues, I issue you a challenge: to share similar experiences and stories. As I wrote in the book:

The time is now to push back hard against the lies and the hate being perpetuated by many politicians. We owe it to the prior generations who were able to arrive on these shores, penniless, speaking a foreign language though rich with hope to make a better life for themselves. Without opportunities, the U.S. experiment will fail.

More immigrant stories need to be shared so that our populace can visualize the hurt that it has caused. I truly believe that there is kindness in the hearts of most people. What matters the most is that we cultivate that kindness and allow it to spread much like the hate we are seeing today.

by Mo Goldman