Irene North


Immigrants make us all better

Immigrants have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Every immigrant I have ever known has had a positive effect on my life and shaped who I am today.

Last week, US District Judge James L. Robart ruled against the president’s executive order banning Muslims from Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, and Yemen after a lawsuit was filed against the EO. Robart granted a temporary restraining order.

My mother took a job with the Middletown Psychiatric Center when I was five years old. It was a state job, which meant security, decent pay and good benefits.

After school, I would sometimes hang out in Mrs. Terwilliger’s office. Mrs. Terwilliger was my mother’s boss. The sprawling campus had several buildings. My mother spent most of her career in Woodman Hall, the building for geriatric patients.

In the time I spent at the Psych Center, as everyone in town called it, I met many people in the medical field helping people with intellectual disabilities.

One nurse my mom worked with was from South Korea. She had a thick accent and was sometimes difficult to understand, but she always took the time to talk to me. I didn’t know her life story, but she had emigrated to America and became a U.S. citizen. She worked hard for the life her adopted country offered her and took care of the less fortunate whose families often forgot they even existed.

The Psych Center also had many Indian doctors. These doctors were also the ones who helped me when I had to write a paper on AIDS in high school. In the 1980s there was little information about the disease. My mom suggested visiting the Psych Center’s library. Much of it was in medical jargon. My mom helped me as best as she could. When we got stuck, we turned to the doctors. They took the time to explain things to me.

A friend in high school was Italian. His parents were from Italy and didn’t speak much English. They were embarrassed teenagers could speak better than they did. I always felt this was a silly notion. They left what they knew and came to a new country for a better life. I could certainly deal with some broken or imperfect English. After all, I was born here. I’d better know how to speak properly after 12 years of schooling.

My great grandparents, my maternal grandfather’s parents, were from Germany. They came some time before the First World War. He was born in Brooklyn, but passed away two years before I was born. They, too, wanted to come to America for a better life. I would literally not be here today if they had never made that journey.
My dentist growing up was a Sikh. His family, too, was made up of immigrants. During checkups, I learned about a religion first hand from someone who lived it every day.

But immigrants aren’t just in New York. I encountered them when I lived in North Carolina, on vacation in South Carolina, on trips up and down the East Coast. I regularly had classmates at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who were international students. I worked in the International Student Affairs office.

At Western Nebraska Community College, I met several students from The Gambia. All of them came here for school. Many are studying in different fields of medicine. Most hope to return home one day to help the people of The Gambia.

Some have stayed. Not only are they immigrants, they are Muslim as well. I was fortunate enough to be invited twice to Eid. Before the meal was served, guests were welcomed, prayers said and extremism condemned. We shared food, conversation and got to know one another.

Every one of these immigrants inspired me in some way to be better than who I was. They came to the United States for a better life, a better education, to participate in their communities, to be American.

The immigration process, even for a student visa is long. There is paperwork, interviews and investigative checks into a person’s identity. They come here because, even now, we have something better to offer them. We should be extending our arms to welcome them, not shutting them out simply because they just a little bit different from us.

On Thursday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled “There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

The case is likely to end up in the Supreme Court.


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