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Immigrants of the week : Ana Hernandez Luna and Gerda Weissman Klein

by Greg Siskind



Opponents of comprehensive immigration reform often point to the 1986 legalization bill as a great failure that should not be repeated. What they don't want to talk about are the great number of success stories for people who were able to become legal. One story that is making the news 25 years later is that of Ana Hernandez Luna who gave an extraordinary speech on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives where she told her own story of her life as a young undocumented immigrant in the 1980s.

The Texas Observer reported on her remarks:

Tuesday, after it was all said and done and HB 12 was passed, Houston Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna gave one of the most poignant personal privilege speeches in the history of the Texas House. Hernandez Luna told the chamber that she had grown up undocumented in Texas. The amnesty granted by President Ronald Reagan in the 80s had allowed her family to come out of the shadows, she said.

I remember the constant fear I lived with each day, she said. The daily task to go buy groceries, it was a simple task for you but for us it was a death sentence because at any time one of my parents could be deported. Some say immigrant children are a drain on public schools. I dont consider myself a drain. I graduated at 16 with honors got a bachelors degree, got a law degree and was elected to the Texas House at age 27, she said. I know firsthand the impact HB 12 will have on families who are undocumented, the fear mothers will feel when they go to the grocery store.



Gerda Weissman Klein is to be congratulated for receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom this past week. The honor conferred by the American President is the highest civilian award given to American citizens. She received the award in recognition of her decades of work as a human rights activist. Mrs. Klein was a young woman in her native Poland when the Nazis took over. She survived the concentration camps and a 350 mile death march in which her best friend died in her arms.

Mrs. Klein's husband Kurt was also her liberator, an American Army intelligence officer. When he rescued her on May 7, 1945 she was only 20 years old but completely grey-haired and weighing just 68 pounds, evidence of the inconceivable attrocities being committed by the Germans. Kurt was also a survivor of sorts. He was a Jewish refugee from Germany who fled to America to escape the Nazis. His parents stayed and were both killed by the Nazis.

Gerda wrote her autobiography in the 1950s and it has now become a classic text for those studying the Holocaust. The book was also the basis for a documentary that went on to win an Academy Award.

Where many could have retreated in to bitterness, Mrs. Klein has chosen to be a crusader for tolerance. She's also the founder of an impressive organization called Citizenship Counts which describes itself as follows:

Our mission is to educate students on the tenets of citizenship, inspire their pride in America and encourage them to participate in community service.

Citizenship Counts is a non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to inspiring todays youth by engaging them in a civics education curriculum that teaches them to appreciate the value and responsibilities of citizenship. Our core curriculum, The Path to Citizenship, promotes pride in American citizenship and encourages students to be involved in their communities. We empower young people to be responsible, participatory and socially-just citizens who appreciate the benefits of living in a diverse, inclusive, democratic country.

Our multi-disciplinary curriculum provides a unique opportunity for students to plan and host a community-based naturalization ceremony in their schools. This curriculum also helps students learn about the process of legal immigration and the rights of being a citizen in the United States of America.

Through our program, all citizens will have greater access to naturalization ceremonies in their communities. Attending these ceremonies will provide more Americans with a deeper understanding and acceptance of the role that legal immigration has played in creating our diverse and dynamic country. After the naturalization ceremony, the new citizens will be able to engage actively with students and members of their communities at a reception planned by the students.

Our vision is to create a well-informed, responsible citizenry of individuals who are motivated to participate in both local and national community service.

President Obama quoted Mrs. Klein when he honored her at the Medal of Freedom ceremony. The words are certainly ones to remember:

I pray you never stand at any crossroads in your own lives, but if you do, if the darkness seems so total, if you think there is no way out, remember, never ever give up.

About The Author

Greg Siskind is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.