The U.S. is a country of immigrants
Immigrant children on Ellis Island, early 1900s. | History

This letter is in response to the recent articles covering immigration.

My grandfather, Albert Joseph Bialek, came to the United States from Poland in 1910. According to the Ellis Island website, he boarded the ship Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse in Bremen, Germany. He had just completed his service in the Austrian Army. Poland at that time was divided into three spheres of influence by Austria, Prussia, and Russia.

Upon being discharged he returned to his father’s farm. Officers from the Austrian Army made an attempt to reenlist him but tradition dictated that he could remain at home so long as he was sorely needed on the farm.

Immediately after the officers departed Albert’s father gave him his brother’s travel documents and instructed him to emigrate to the United States.  His father knew that war was coming and he didn’t want to lose his son to it.   (It took me longer to locate my grandfather on the passenger list because I had forgotten he was traveling under the name Jan and not Albert.)  Given the fact that Albert entered the United States under the name Jan Bialek and later burned his immigration papers, it is evident he was, by definition, an “illegal immigrant.”  He went on to become a very hard-working brick mason and law-abiding citizen raising 12 children with the help of his Polish wife Mary (née Mazan) and the rest, as they say, is history.

Just as Cleveland, where I live, is a city of neighborhoods, so is the United States a country of immigrants.  In fact, all the major cities of America (at one time) served as incubators for immigrants to not only become accustomed to the ways of this country but also to intermingle with each other – which was often prohibited in their native homeland.

Just imagine how much stronger and united our country might have been had this unofficial tradition continued. Gentrification of cities is not the answer. Preventing immigration is not the solution. Intense vetting may be acceptable during these challenging times, but to unfairly deny even one person access to the United States makes us all orphans again.

As a popular song goes: “Let me in, immigration man.”

–Joe Bialek, Cleveland, Ohio


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