The Washington Post
July 13, 2012
Acentury ago, the immigrants from across the Atlantic included settlers and sojourners. Along with the many folks looking to make a permanent home in the United States came those who had no intention to stay, and who would make some money and then go home. Between 1908 and 1915, about 7 million people arrived while about 2 million departed. About a quarter of all Italian immigrants, for example, eventually returned to Italy for good. They even had an affectionate nickname, “uccelli di passaggio,” birds of passage.
Today, we are much more rigid about immigrants. We divide newcomers into two categories: legal or illegal, good or bad. We hail them as Americans in the making, or brand them as aliens fit for deportation. That framework has contributed mightily to our broken immigration system and the long political paralysis over how to fix it. We don’t need more categories, but we need to change the way we think about categories. We need to look beyond strict definitions of legal and illegal. To start, we can recognize the new birds of passage, those living and thriving in the gray areas. We might then begin to solve our immigration challenges.