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Well, of course they did; it would be tough to come here "illegally" when there were no laws against just showing up at one of the ports of entry.
Have you ever browsed the comments against the DREAM Act on YouTube or some online article? If you have, the headline might sound familiar. Some proud third- or fourth-generation American citizen feels compelled to reiterate the legal immigration history of their family in order to "put down" the "illegal immigrants" of today who seem to have no shame in coming here illegally.
Enough with the "my ancestors did it the legal way" argument! Of course your grandparents came here legally 50-300 years ago; no real immigration laws existed at that point. Unless you were a criminal or Chinese (re: Chinese Exclusion Act), once you landed in America, you were legally here. Sure, there were ethnic groups in the early 20th century that entered illegally due to the racist immigration quotas against them. So what did the American government do when 1.2 million of these immigrants were found living here illegally? Well, something that would be called amnesty today.
The 12 million that arrived at Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954 mostly stayed put for only 4-5 hours before they were dispersed to other parts of the country. Only 1-2% of immigrants were turned away due to insanity, criminal offense, or medical reasons.
So yes, most of the "grandparents waited in line and came here legally" after some hours, compared to the minimum of 10 years it takes a U.S. citizen today to petition for a married son or daughter (and twice as long if the married son or daughter is from Mexico or the Phillipines). And immigration laws forbid (not), if you petition for your child, grandchild or niece/nephew when s/he is 12 and s/he is well over 21 by the time her/his priority number becomes current, s/he is no longer eligible in the same category!
The strict and rigid immigration game of today cannot be compared to simply boarding a ship and landing in America like most ancestors of U.S. citizens did in the yesteryears. Therefore, please, no more family histories of legal immigration from an era when legal/illegal didn't matter. It is irrelevant and nonsensical.
Let's continue this discussion at A Dream Deferred.