My wife's parents fled Romania under Ceaușescu in the early 1980s and came to the United States. It sounds so straightforward, but it was a journey racked with uncertainty and dangers.
The Ceaușescu regime was the most totalitarian and repressive behind the Iron Curtain. It caused massive famines, economic ruin, despair and death. My father-in-law went first, purportedly on a family visit to Houston, Texas. He left behind his wife and his two-year-old daughter.
Once he had claimed political asylum in the US, the Romanian Embassy was notified. As a consequence, my mother-in-law was fired from her job as a teacher and repeatedly imprisoned and interrogated by the security services. For four years, they tracked her every move, ensuring she and her daughter had no income and no rights. In Texas, my father-in-law worked three jobs and tirelessly petitioned every government service and politician to reunite his family.
Finally, in 1988 his wife and daughter were able to get on a plane to New York. My wife was six years old when she saw her father again.
America for them was and remains the promised land. They're some of them most freedom-loving people I know. There's no room for "socialism" in this household - they suffered enough under it. They've worked hard here, building a life for themselves and their daughter. My wife went to an Ivy League college on a scholarship and then worked in NYC and London, where we met.
My background is less dramatic, but I did spend most of my life in countries in which I was a foreigner. Always legal, mostly tolerated, but I know the desire to chase opportunity across borders. I grew up in Germany, the US, and Canada. Since then I've studied, lived, and worked in the US, the UK, France, India, Denmark, and Germany.
Migration is a significant challenge for the world in the coming decades. We're starting to see the downsides of mass unregulated immigration in Europe. My heart is torn here, but it's a debate that's worth having between the extremes of fear and open borders.
I'm writing this because my eldest daughter received her US citizenship today, on the basis of jus sanguinis (not the jus soli that's being debated). She's too young for the full-on ceremony, but it's an emotional day for us. America still holds the promise of freedom and exceptionalism in this family. It's still the shining city upon a hill.
May it return to its senses and prosper.