New York is a city of immigrants, very unlike the rest of the country. It is estimated that approximately 40% of the city's population is foreign born, as contrasted with only 11% of the United States overall.
New York has always been a point of entry for a multitude of immigrants. One need look no further than Ellis Island - 12 million people entered the United States in a period of 62 years.
There has been a substantial growth in the immigrant population - in 1970, the proportion of foreign born in New York was less than 18%. The 40% number of immigrants in New York City today has not been seen since 1910, at the peak of the 1880-1920 wave of immigration.
Many attribute this in part to the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots worldwide, with many people from underdeveloped nations looking to emigrate to the United States and other more economically advanced countries.
Dealing with immigration has been an eye opening process. Like everything else, there is theory and there is practice, and the reality of immigration, citizenship, green cards, visas etc. are academic until you are somehow involved.
Recently, I accompanied a friend for an interview with the USCIS at 26 Federal Plaza. The process was very bureaucratic, as would be expected - the immigration official was looking for very specific things and was rather dismissive of the evidence provided.
Of course, then there is the very real world of immigrants. Speaking to attorneys working in the field and immigrants themselves, it surprised me to learn that even when an immigrant has illegal status and this is known by the immigration authorities, in New York City, these immigrants will generally not be pursued. Unless the individual is arrested for other reasons, deportation is unlikely. On April 11, 2006, I photographed and wrote about a demonstration of illegal aliens and immigrants. It was both surprising and ironic to see people whose very status was illegal make this known publicly by their active participation in a march.
Historically, the United States has been a Beacon of Hope and a magnet for those seeking opportunity and a better life. Recently, however, I have heard a number of people both here and outside the country say that there is greater opportunity now in parts of Asia than here at home.
I know of individuals who have left to return home. I have read other articles about how America will never be the same, that our economic hegemony is finished. Perhaps our Lady of Liberty is a little tarnished, the magnet no longer pulls as hard, and when a land of opportunity says Knock, Knock, we may have to answer, Who's There?