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July 01, 2017 Introduction

Immigration and the American Dream

By Judge Samuel A. Thumma

Immigration. The word has meaning, to all of us, in wildly different ways. Nearly all of us are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. So, it is personal. And facts—and myths—about immigration terminology, law, and policy abound. These issues are ubiquitous in modern life.

The United States is a country created, expanded, improved, and enhanced by immigrants, who have enriched the country in ways that may be easy to overlook. Any listing of famous American immigrants brings to life how much richer our country is given their contributions. Among literally hundreds of millions of others, consider the following immigrants to the United States and the contributions they have made: physicist Albert Einstein; Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of state; Henry Kissinger, secretary of state and national security advisor; naturalist John Muir; Joseph Pulitzer, publisher and journalism award sponsor; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter; Subranhmanyan Chandrasekhar, Nobel Prize winner in physics; songwriter Irving Berlin; Saint Frances X. Cabrini; David Ho, AIDS researcher and 1996 Time Magazine “Man of the Year”; writer Isaac Asimov; bodybuilder Charles Atlas; actor and comedian Bob Hope; football coach Knute Rockne; and former governor/actor/bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger. And the list goes on, and on, and on, and on.1 Immigration and the American dream go hand in hand.

And the desire for citizens of the world to immigrate to the United States is incredible. A 2012 Gallup poll revealed that, worldwide, more than 640 million people wanted to leave their country permanently. Where did they want to go? Nearly a quarter—150 million people—said they wanted to move to the United States.2 Clearly, immigration has been, is, and will continue to be an important part of our country and a topic that warrants ongoing discussion, debate, and careful thought.

Immigration touches us all in a variety of different ways, including personal and family history, day-to-day experiences, visceral reactions, policy choices, and legal issues and decisions. In this edition of The Judges’ Journal, we are delighted to present seven feature articles addressing immigration from various perspectives.

Addressing the law, Cyrus D. Mehta gives us a delightful, comprehensive overview of terminology and legal concepts in “Immigration FAQs.” Building on this overview, Yasmin Yavar and Dalia Castillo-Granados provide insight into a unique aspect of immigration in “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status in a Nutshell,” a “must-have” article for every state juvenile court judge’s bench book. Judge Lynn W. Davis and Scott A. Isaacson provide helpful guidance in using interpreters, so that all involved can understand court proceedings, in “Ensuring Equal Access to Justice for Limited English Proficiency Individuals.”

Our own Judge James E. Lockemy provides an overview of a troubling time in immigration in “A Standing Menace to Republican Institutions: A Brief Overview of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and America’s First Attempt to Ban a ‘Defined’ Group from Entry into Our Nation.”

We are especially honored to offer three more personal views of immigration. Former American Bar Association President Stephen N. Zack shares his personal experience as a Cuban immigrant in the 1960s, and those of his family, in “Immigration Through the Eyes of an Immigrant.” Judge Dorothy A. Harbeck then shares insight into her multifaceted role as an immigration judge in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in “In Borrowed Robes: A Day in the Life of an Immigration Judge.” Our own Judge Nannette A. Baker’s “Naturalization Ceremonies: ‘It’s the Best Part of My Job’” describes the joy in the moments when immigrants become citizens of the United States. And, as always, we are delighted to include Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr.’s typically wonderful technology tips and Marla N. Greenstein’s helpful insight on ethics.

We are honored to be able to publish the work of these fabulous volunteer authors. Please reflect on your own personal experience as you read and enjoy these offerings.


1. See “Famous Ellis Island Immigrants,” Nat’l Park Serv.,; Famous American Immigrants, Immigration Update,

2. Jon Clifton, 150 Million Adults Worldwide Would Migrate to the U.S., Gallup (Apr. 20, 2012),

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