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10 things you might not know about immigration

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One of the biggest issues looming when Congress returns from its holiday break is immigration reform. In honor of our nation built by immigrants, we give you our rich, well-sourced and huddled mass of facts yearning to breathe free:

1. A staggering 640 million people worldwide would move to another country if given the chance, according to a Gallup poll released in 2012. And nearly a quarter of them would choose to come here. So if the U.S. opened its borders, who would show up? About 22 million Chinese, 15 million Nigerians and 10 million Indians. (Not everybody wants to live in America. Count among them the 7.2 million Americans who live abroad, according to the U.S. State Department.)

2. On the first Monday of March, Illinois' schoolchildren stay home to honor Casimir Pulaski, a Polish nobleman and Revolutionary War hero who is considered the father of American cavalry. But the more appropriate Polish horseman to honor might be Peter Kiolbassa. After fighting in the U.S. Civil War, he settled in Chicago, where he helped found St. Stanislaus Kostka Church. The Catholic parish, which at one time reportedly was the largest in the United States with some 45,000 members, was the heart of a large and influential Polish community that reshaped Chicago in many ways. In fact, the Kennedy Expressway jogs east at Division Street to steer clear of the impressive structure.

3. Illegal immigration from Mexico dominates the news, but Mexicans also are far and away the largest group of legal immigrants to the U.S. 2000-2011, more than 2 million Mexicans won the right to move to the U.S. That's more than twice as many as the next nearest group: mainland Chinese, with about 795,000.

4. U.S.-born children of immigrants are more likely to graduate from college than Americans as a whole, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

5. It is an enduring but erroneous view that immigrants to the U.S. have almost always stayed. During a five-year period in the Great Depression, 120,000 immigrants arrived and 260,000 left. One study of pre-1930 immigration showed that Jews and Irish were most likely to stay (a remigration rate of less than one in eight), while 87 percent of those in the "Bulgarian/Montenegrin/Serbian" category went back.

6. Film director/writer Billy Wilder fled Nazi Germany and got a temporary U.S. visa to work on a movie, but it expired and he left — for Mexicali, Mexico, where he tried to persuade the U.S. consul to let him back into the country even though he lacked the proper documents. He recalled the consul asking, "What do you do?" and him answering, "I write movies." The consul stamped his passport and said, "Write some good ones." When Wilder accepted the Irving Thalberg award, in 1988, he thanked that unnamed U.S. official in Mexicali.

7. One of the most infamous mass deportations in American history occurred during the Great Depression. In response to economic hardship, U.S. officials rounded up hundreds of thousands of Hispanics and shipped them to Mexico. Thousands were U.S. citizens who were denied a chance to appeal their deportation.

8. "If as a nation we have the right to keep out infectious diseases ... we surely have the right to exclude that immigration which reeks of impurity and which cannot come to us without plenteously sowing the seeds of moral and physical disease, destitution and death," said Sen. James Blaine, R-Maine, in making an astoundingly offensive case for the Fifteen Passenger Bill of 1879, which would have turned away ships with more than 15 Chinese on board. That bill was vetoed, but three years later the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed and signed, leading to severe limits on Chinese immigration for 60 years — until the U.S. eased up to placate World War II ally China.

9. One of Chicago's most famous immigrants was also the nation's first saint: Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini. After coming to the U.S. from Italy in 1889, she opened scores of hospitals, schools, nurseries and other institutions to help the poor and sick. Mother Cabrini died in Chicago on Dec. 22, 1917, and was canonized in 1946. In 1950, she was proclaimed the patron saint of immigrants.

10. Could Bill Clinton immigrate to France and quickly become its leader? The American ex-president raised the purely theoretical possibility in an interview last year, asserting that he could be fast-tracked into French politics because he was born in a place that was once part of the French Empire — Arkansas. But even if the relevant provision of French law applied to the lands of the Louisiana Purchase (and some doubt it), the French closed the loophole in 2006.

Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor at the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor.

mjacob@tribune.com

sbenzkofer@tribune.com

Sources: "The American Revelation: Ten Ideals That Shaped Our Country from the Puritans to the Cold War," by Neil Baldwin; "The American Kaleidoscope: Race, Ethnicity, and the Civic Culture," by Lawrence H. Fuchs; "Communion of Immigrants: A History of Catholics in America," by James T. Fisher; "Beyond Ethnicity," by Werner Sollors; "Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act," by Andrew Gyory; "Coming to America," by Roger Daniels; "On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder," by Ed Sikov; Encyclopedia of Chicago; Migration Policy Institute; Gallup; Chicago Tribune; Wall Street Journal; slate.com; census.gov; foreignpolicy.com; time.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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