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Reps. Quigley and Hultgren: Our Immigration Story

Jun 4, 2018

Rep. Quigley (IL-05) and Rep. Hultgren (IL-14) released the following op-ed in celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month, which is commemorated throughout the month of June.

Every American has an immigration story. Some were born overseas, or their family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers were. Our nation — a nation of immigrants — is better off thanks to the contributions, viewpoints and backgrounds offered by those who came to our country from someplace else. As Members of Congress, we too, have our own unique immigration story. It’s what makes us who we are, and it has strengthened our mission to serve and provided us more opportunity than we could have known otherwise.

I’m Congressman Mike Quigley, and I descended from immigrants. My great-great-grandfather left the hunger and devastation caused by Ireland’s potato famine in search of reliable food, rewarding work, more opportunity — simply put, a better life.

His journey to North America first began laboring in mines before moving the family across the border to Indiana. Their relocation to America was the culmination of the vision he had less than a decade prior. The transition to the United States for my great-great-grandfather — and all of those escaping poverty and starvation in Ireland — was undoubtedly challenging, but it wasn’t long before their descendants began strengthening the vibrancy of American culture.

I’m Congressman Randy Hultgren, and I descended from immigrants. My great-grandfather took a ship from Sweden to America because it was a land of opportunity. Leaving behind all that he knew, he grabbed his suitcase, donned his hat, and set off to begin a new life in an unfamiliar place.

He ended up in Chicago and became a doorman at what was then Marshall Field’s, where he remained an employee for decades. As the first friendly face that greeted customers when they stepped into that iconic department store, my great-grandfather got to know the patrons in a special, familiar way. He learned their names, discovered their routines and heard their stories, as they did with him. Together, they became a community.

Both of our forefathers knew what future opportunities would await their children, but it’s doubtful that they knew just to what extent their grandchildren and beyond would benefit. And these experiences aren’t just specific to our two families; similar versions of this same story exist in every corner of our country.

Leaving the only home you’ve ever known is never easy, which is why the courage and bravery of our relatives means so much to our family history and to the shared history of this nation, woven together like a colorful, patchwork quilt.

Today, we see the invaluable impacts made by immigrants in every walk of life, in every industry and in every community. In few places are their impacts felt greater than in the city and suburbs of Chicago, of which we are proud to represent in the U.S. House of Representatives.

We believe there is a clear moral and American obligation to protect those fleeing oppression, seeking safety and a better life. At the same time, we also acknowledge the positive economic benefits to remaining the world’s beacon of hope for the most vulnerable.

Illinois is home to nearly 1.8 million immigrants, the sixth-largest population of foreign-born residents of any state in the country. These new Americans serve as everything from software developers to metalworkers, making them critical contributions to the state’s economic success. While immigrants represent 14 percent of the state’s population, they also make up 22 percent of our state’s entrepreneurs. They contribute directly to our growing economy and workforce, generating billions in business income and creating companies that employ more than 280,000 residents.

Our state has always thrived thanks to the innovation, determination and optimism supplied by immigrants across the world who have decided to make Illinois their home. Immigration is a help to our shared prosperity and competitiveness — not a hindrance. This Immigrant Heritage Month, we encourage all Chicagoans, Illinoisans and Americans to reflect on their own personal immigration stories, as well as the American values of compassion and opportunity, as we open our hearts to those who have recently arrived.

We must always remember our past in pursuit of our future.