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A Family Story Tells a Bigger Tale of Immigration History

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In honor of Immigrant Heritage Month, our director, León Rodríguez, shares his family’s immigration story in this short video.

As he puts it, their story represents almost a textbook example of immigration history and issues. Three of his four grandparents were Sephardic (Spanish speaking) Jews from Turkey who moved to Cuba in the 1920s. Later, his maternal grandfather – who worked as a shoemaker -- devoted himself to assisting European refugees. “My mother often talks about my grandfather running out in the middle of the night actually to greet a ship that had arrived, carrying refugees who were fleeing Nazi Europe,” he says.
Then, in the 1960s, after Fidel Castro came to power, his family decided to move to the United States. There were immigration challenges. For instance, since some relatives were Turkish nationals, their immigration was counted against the Turkish quota. “There was a lot of back and forth as to how the Cuban admission process was going to be run in that period, so initially my maternal grandparents had some difficulty migrating,” Director Rodríguez says. His parents were admitted as refugees. “In fact, I've been able to look at some records from that period and I've been able to see actually the refugee screening that was done on of my father. He was actually detained for a short while, while they screened him in order to determine if he could be admitted as a refugee to the United States.”

In the video, Director Rodríguez credits his grandfather’s work on behalf of refugees with helping to inspire his own professional interest in immigration. In fact, an immigrant advocacy group whose board his grandfather served on in the 1940s is today a partner of USCIS. “If you look at any given immigration file, every one of those files is the story of some family's hopes and dreams, and in some cases, a story of a family's sufferings,” he says. “So to be able to … lead the people that shepherd those families, for me, is the absolute professional peak.”