In his Third State of the Union Address, President Lincoln described immigrants as a " source of national wealth and strength." Immigration is a topic that is close to my heart. I am the daughter of a Dutch immigrant. My father, his brother, sister and my grandparents immigrated to the U.S. in the 50's. When arriving into the United States they found out that the treaty that was assumed to have been signed by the time they arrived in the U.S. wasn't. In short, they were in the country illegally. By the grace of God, an immigrant official had pity on them and told them to enter the U.S. and then make it right. He could have easily sent them back. My grandparents took seriously the responsibility of making it right and did so after four years of struggle. Many years ago my Grandmother wrote the story of their troubles. Here it is in her own words.
THE IMMIGRATION PAPERS
As soon as Stan and I had said “Yes” to Mr. Strater’s requests that we were willing to go to America for his business (making hand-embroidered vestments for Catholic Priests), we contacted Mr. Bob Vogelpohl in Cincinnati, Ohio, to work out further plans with him. Bob had offered Stan a job as his salesman with a territory of practically the whole U.S. Since Bob sold all kinds of church goods, but not vestments, Stan would travel for both companies. Bob would rent a house for us and make things ready on his end of the world.
We contacted the American Consul in Rotterdam and we got our Dutch passports. On mine were the names of our three children and a picture of me and the oldest one. (We had Joseph, Titus, Octavie and I was pregnant with Clemens). I had asked Mr. Strater if we could take my sister Miep with us to help with the new baby.
Stan and I were not sure that the Lord really wanted us to go to the United States and I secretly asked Him for “a sign”.
Stan had been there for two trips, seven months out of the year in 1951 and after having Occi and moving into another house by myself, I just wanted to be together. Deep in my heart, I had no aspirations to go to America for we lived very nicely in Laren and our county was so free!
The Consul decided to give us a new kind of visa because we were leaving the last week of April. (By boat: the Rijndam II). The two countries had been working on a special visa for business-people; they would stay for 4 years, pay taxes etc. and then return to their home-land.
I never believed in that four-year-thing. My intuition said that we never would come back; but who listens to intuition? Not only was I proven right, but my Dad had the same feeling, which years later came to light after his death in 1955 when my Mother found a piggybank marked “for the trip to America”.
We got our visa quickly, but Miep didn’t. She had told the Consul that she wanted a two-year visitor’s visa because she wanted to help us with the new baby and she loved the chance to see the U.S. “You are not a visitor” the Consul said, so the answer was no. Miep went to Rotterdam a second time, but she kept telling the truth and didn’t get it. In the meantime she got her smallpox shots and was very sick after that. She went to Rotterdam for a third and last try. The Consul was not in and a young man had taken his place. Without further ado he got her photo and papers together, asked her to sign and she got her visa. I felt I had gotten my sign.
On April 17 (my parents wedding date) we went on the boat with our hearts broken from all the farewells and the last hugs.
Seven days later, we arrived in New York and after about two hours in line, the Immigration Officer looked at our papers and said “the treaty between America and the Netherlands was NOT signed last week, so now you are illegally here.” Did he tear them up? (I don’t remember). He looked at us again, this time very carefully, and decided to let us go to Cincinnati and there contact the Immigration Authorities immediately.
Later we found out that Ellis Island was still open and that the Officer could have easily sent us there. We were a sorry, but decent sight and he may have felt sorry for us! Then started a four-year battle with the authorities.
Our first money went to a hotel where all six of us had to stay for three weeks until our crate came in, and our second money went to the Immigration Services in Cincinnati and Washington where they had big dossiers about us full of papers, X-rays and requests to go back to Holland and start all over again. The people in the office in Cincinnati got to know Stan so well, they yelled one time “Hi Stan. How many children you have now?”
Well by that time, we had six children and we were bursting out of our house in Glenmeadow. Miep had to leave when Maria was almost five months and her two years were up.
The Lord must have decided that we needed some divine intervention and he inspired one of our neighbors to write a letter to her Senator. It read something like this, “Senator Bricker, What is going on? This is a decent family and they are treated like Russian spies. Threatening letters, official orders, etc. have finally brought them to the end of the line. They have made arrangements with a boat to Holland, a house, registration for the children in school, but her husband has no job there and his family is big.” Stan had two bosses in the beginning, but nobody can serve two masters and after about three years he had to break away from the Dutch boss.
The result from that letter was fantastic! Senator Bricker had other cases like ours and knew about the Immigration laws. He sent some telegrams to us and to several offices. It was decided we would have to go across the U.S. boundary and of course we preferred Canada to Mexico. Within three weeks we were on our way to Windsor, via Detroit where we had friends, and our papers were indeed waiting there! Our three Dutch children had to come with us. Our three American/Dutch children were taken care of by two Grail sisters.
I had wanted to go back to Laren, but was very relieved to have a decision finally. All those years were kind of hanging there, and now we could really start to make the best of it! We cancelled the boat, could keep all our stuff and we moved to Redbank Road.
So now you know the end of that story!
Knowing how hard a struggle my grandparents fought, I believed I knew my position on illegal immigrants. While my grandparents did not purposely come to this country with the intention to be here illegally, they were here illegally. They chose to make it right instead of lie and hide.
These past few weeks, our studies in home school have focused on immigration. It is with much pride I tell our children that they are descended from recent immigrants. Several years ago our family took a road trip from Texas all the way to New York City (with stops along the way). My dream was to see the Statue of Liberty. I wanted to see what my Grandparents had seen when entering this country. It was more magnificent and moving than I ever imagined.
Last year, I met a dear friend here in town. She was much younger than me, pregnant with her second child and homeschooling her 2nd grade son. We started talking and found out we had so much in common. She was very mature for her age, intelligent and articulate. We had an instant bond of friendship. Now, she is like a little sister to me.
Recently she confided to me that she had come into the country illegally when she was young. I was shocked to find out that although she was married to a U.S. citizen and both of her children were born in the U.S., she would shortly be shipped out of the country for an extended period back to Mexico. I grieved for the toll this would take on her family. Her husband would be separated from his children and wife for a year or more. So much happens in the life of a baby in a year. Bonding between the baby and his father would be greatly compromised. My heart was sick for her. Knowing her story personally has really opened my eyes to the plight of the illegal immigrant.
She became a Christian and applied for citizenship. The paperwork and money needed to gain her citizenship are unbelievably burdensome. She often wanted to give up. She recently asked me to write a letter on her behalf in her efforts to gain citizenship. While I am honored, I don't even know how to begin such a letter. I pray that God gives me wisdom for this task.
I think it has come full circle for our family. Someone wrote a letter on behalf of my grandparents so many years ago to help them gain their citizenship. Now it is my turn.