Immigration: More than a Number

March 26, 2015

In Monday’s iAt article, Immigration: A Tale of Two Grandfathers, John Lee wrote, “For many of us, the daily struggle of 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the United States is not a very real wound in our hearts but rather an abstract piece of data in our heads. To paraphrase Joseph Stalin: ‘The distress of one undocumented person is a tragedy. The distress of millions is a statistic.’ Rather than weeping with those who weep, we are content simply to count them.”

The statistics can be overwhelming.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, “Immigrants accounted for 13 percent of the total 316 million U.S. residents; adding the U.S.-born children (of all ages) of immigrants means that approximately 80 million people, or one-quarter of the overall U.S. population, is either of the first or second generation.” Immigrants are our neighbors and our co-workers. They are our friends and part of our family. We see those who have come from another country to the United States in the line at the grocery store, at the table next to ours at restaurants, and in the row in front of us at church. And, each immigrant has a story. Each person has a story of what it was like to first arrive in the United States–what it was like to order their first meal in a restaurant, apply for their first job, or find refuge among other immigrants in the midst of confusion and loneliness in this new land.

The purpose of this week’s series on immigration was for you, the readers of iAt, to read the immigration stories of those we don’t usually hear about in the news and then provide ways for you to think about the “now what.” Now that we know these stories, what can I do to help or to hear more stories?

How can you welcome an immigrant to your neighborhood or to your town?

Judy Hauswald, vice president of the governing board of CASA and an advocate for immigrants, gives this advice:

  1. Smile. Even if you do not speak another language, nothing speaks louder than a warm and genuine smile.

  2. Learn a greeting in another language. If you can learn to say “Hello, my name is ___________” in Spanish or another language, you will be taking the first step to getting to know your new neighbor. If you attempt to speak a few words in their language, you may be surprised to find that they may speak a few words of English back!

  3. Help someone learn Engligh. You do not have to speak Spanish or be a professional teacher to tutor someone who is learning English. With a little training, you can teach English and make a new friend.1

  4. Offer a ride. Many of our immmigrant neighbors do not drive. Offer to take them to the grocery store or give their kids a ride to school or school-related programs. When you see someone walking in bad weather, offer them a ride.

  5. Become a local advocate. There are many ways that you can volunteer to serve our immigrant community. CASA of Sioux County is a non-profit organization whose mission is “to promote healthy, diverse communities through empowerment, education and advocacy”. Check with your city’s chamber office or human services office to see if there is a similar organization in the area you live.

Do you have any other advice for people wanting to welcome immigrants to their community? Leave it in the comments below.

Dig Deeper

We realize the stories from Rikki Heldt and Mark Verbruggen are only the beginning. There are many more we could share–stories of long lines, rejection, and disappointment. There are also stories of hope, anticipation, and relief.

To add to those featured on iAt, there are other webpages that are sharing immigration stories. One webpage wrote, “Statistics do not tell the stories of immigration. People do.”2 Here are some links to other webpages that are sharing stories.

My Immigration Story features the stories of U.S. immigrants in their own words.

We Are America raises the voice of immigrants in the national dialogue around our country’s broken immigration system. We Are America lifts up the personal stories of immigrants across America to put real people and communities back into national discussion on immigration policy.

Coming to America is a daily online publication of top immigration news updates, curated by NY Citizenship & Family Immigration Lawyer, Paul Jeff Perez.

Jessica is an immigrant is the story of a teenage immigrant. Nearly 40 million people in America were born in another country and came here for a better life. Jessica is one of them. This is her story.

And, explore the history of immigration in America and learn what it’s like to be an immigrant today at Immigration: Stories of Yesterday and Today. (This site is sponsored by Scholastic and is kid-friendly.)

Do you have your own immigration story you’d like to share with the readers of iAt? We would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or email the staff of iAt at to share your story with us.

About the Author
  • Liz Moss is the former managing editor of In All Things and the Andreas Center Program Coordinator. Today she is the Development Director for The Tesfa Foundation, serving students and families in Ethiopia. She is ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America.

  1. For more information about volunteering to teach English in Northwest Iowa, Martha Draayer, 


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