My Italian great-grandfather stowed away on a ship alone from Naples at 13 years old to come to this country. His lack of education meant he could only sign his name with an X.
As a young "W.O.P." (without papers), he got an under-the-table job as a water boy on construction sites. He worked his way up in the construction business to one day run his own successful company and raise sons who went to college, served in World War II, and worked as firemen and engineers.
His daughter raised a rocket scientist who invented the thermal tiles that enabled the first moon landing. His grandchildren and great-grandchildren went to Ivy League schools.
If America had sent him back based on a lack of "merit," he never would have employed a staff or watched his progeny build on the foundation of his dreams.
My grandfather, mother, uncle (who served in Vietnam and helped vets afterwards), my cousins, and I would not exist. Each of us strives passionately every day to contribute to this country.
By their own logic, none of their own forefathers and mothers would have been allowed on these hallowed shores.
America is made great by her immigrants. Not just the ones from Norway. All of us.
The immigrants whose lands of origin have been pillaged by white colonialists and slave traders, like my husband’s native Ghana, statistically show the highest levels of achievement in our nation because they have overcome so much to get here and because the culture they bring with them is one that requires they do their ancestors proud.
If it's a question of "merit," they are at least as deserving as a Norwegian immigrant.
If we vet immigrants based on intellectual or financial merit, we inevitably deprive the United States of countless stories like my great-grandfather’s.
Emma Lazarus’ poem on the Statue of Liberty concludes:
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
In 2017, let’s not lower the lamp and dim the door, lest we become the kind of nation our ancestors fled to get here.