Wednesday, August 18, 2010

J.R. Lind: my great-grandfather was illegal, but his kids weren't

J.R. Lind
J.R. Lind, lead contributor of Post Politics, tells that Hispanics aren't the only Nashvillians with possible immigration violations in their family tree (see previous stories about Gregg Ramos, Mack, and Ken Marrero). Lind's great-grandfather Robert "Bobby" Linn had five children on American soil while he was still "illegal," as Lind puts it, and the 14th Amendment made sure that those children were automatically and unquestionably American citizens. Two of Bobby's children fought in the second World War.

Here's the story, in Lind's words:
Visa stamp courtesy of Elliott Scott
Licensed via Creative Commons
More than 90 years ago, my great-grandfather - Robert Linn - left a village south of Glasgow for the bustling English port of Liverpool. There he boarded a ship - aptly named the Liverpool - bound for New York. He arrived in New York Harbor just as the United States had adopted the first "modern" immigration and naturalization laws. British subjects were not restricted under the quotas in place at the time and, by all accounts, Bobby could have received an "immigrant's visa," at the time the first crucial step on the path to American citizenship. For whatever reason, my great-grandfather did not. Instead he was issued the early 20th century equivalent of what we call a tourist visa.
Nevertheless, Bobby made his way west, eventually settling in Iowa and overstaying that visa.
He met and fell in love with a local girl. He changed the second N in his surname to a D, perhaps because "Lind" was a fairly common name among Swedes who were his neighbors and he wanted to fit in. His little ruse didn't quite work out. He wasn't "Bobby" to his German and Scandinavian neighbors - he was "Scotty" and "Scotty's Garage" became the go-to place in that little Iowa jerkwater for auto repairs as cars became more prevalent. In the meantime, Scotty served as a general Mr. Fix-It and made house with his tall, elegant farmgirl wife. The union produced five children.
No one there seemed to care that Scotty wasn't exactly squared up with the immigration authorities. They just knew he could fix everything. They knew the Lind's clapboard house as a place to go to play cards. They knew the Linds had beautiful daughters and handsome, athletic sons. And no one called those kids "anchor babies."
Two of those sons fought in World War II - my great-uncle was an airborne soldier in Europe and my grandfather - the greatest man I know - joined the Navy before Pearl Harbor, his destroyer leaving Hawaii just days before the attack. In less than five years, he was a Chief Petty Officer. He left the Navy, met a local Iowa girl of his own and started his own family before moving to Tennessee.
It was a different time when Robert Linn stepped on the shores of America. Probably no one minded that the Scottish guy who could fix everything had overstayed his federally-mandated welcome. He was white and Protestant. He spoke English. But under the law, he was illegal. But his kids weren't, because of the 14th Amendment his two sons fought a war to defend.
Editor's Note: Three other Nashvillians who were born in the U.S. to a parent who can't confirm legal immigration status are Gregg Ramos, Mack, and Ken Marrero. Click on their names to read their stories.

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