A genealogist dug up facts on these anti-immigrant influencers. The results are telling.

The United States is — and has always been — a nation of immigrants. You wouldn't know it from some of the current rhetoric.

Donald Trump rode into presidential office on a promise to build a wall along the U.S. southern border and kick undocumented immigrants out of the country. Since becoming president, Trump has even taken aim at legal immigration, supporting plans to reduce the number of application approvals, ending the diversity lottery, and setting various "merit" benchmarks.

It's not just a Trump thing. This photo of an anti-immigration rally in California comes from 2006. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.


One genealogist decided to put things in perspective.

Jennifer Mendelsohn is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in places like The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and more. About five years ago, Mendelsohn took an interest in genealogy, using her skills as a reporter to hone a new craft: helping people track down long-lost relatives.

Since March 2017, Mendelsohn has been working on a new project she calls #ResistanceGenealogy, where she compares the statements and positions of prominent commentators and politicians with their own family tree to see how their ancestors would have fared under similar laws. Spoiler alert: not very well in most cases. Let's take a look at some of what she's found.

Hungarian immigrants arriving in America. Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images.

1. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who said "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."

In a tweet showing support for anti-immigration Netherlands politician Geert Wilders, King wrote that "culture and demographics are about destiny," adding that "we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies." Yikes!

Asked to clarify what he meant on CNN's "New Day," King doubled down. "I've said the same thing as far as 10 years ago to the German people and to any population of people that is a declining population that isn't willing to have enough babies to reproduce themselves. I’ve said to them, 'You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else's babies. You've got to keep your birth rate up and that you need to teach your children your values.'"

Mendelsohn was able to pull up records appearing to be from King's grandmother, Freda, marking her arrival in the U.S. in 1894. According to King's suggestion, the country would have been better off if she'd been kept out to allow for more U.S.-born children.

2. White House adviser Stephen Miller helped craft a policy using "English proficiency" in ranking immigration candidates.

Miller helped shape the RAISE Act, which would eliminate the "diversity lottery," implement a "merit-based" system, and prioritize applicants who speak English. In a January 2018 interview with Fox News, Miller said that his goal was an immigration system that "produces more assimilation."

By those standards, according to Mendelsohn's research, Miller's great-grandmother, who didn't speak English, probably wouldn't have been welcomed here (and neither would he).

3. Fox News host Tucker Carlson said, "Why does America benefit from having tons of people from failing countries come here?"

A conservative commentator and Fox News host, Carlson has a history of inflammatory comments about immigrants. In June 2017, he asked, "Why does America benefit from having tons of people from failing countries come here?" America has always billed itself as a land of opportunity where someone from what Carlson would call a "failing country" can work hard and live out their dreams. Carlson's own ancestors seem to have believed in that as well.

Mendelsohn dug up a letter that appears to be from a relative of Carlson's explaining why he came to America in the first place: "Partly because of the narrowness of opportunities ... I was seized at about this time of a violent desire to leave the country and seek my fortune in foreign parts."

4. Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio targeted suspected undocumented immigrants and mistreated inmates who couldn't speak English.

Arpaio took a lot of anti-immigrant actions during his time as Maricopa County Sheriff (the ACLU has a non-comprehensive list of some of his more egregious acts). In fact, it's how he built his reputation.

Of those, one move, discovered by the U.S. Justice Department, stands out: Arpaio singled out Latina inmates who couldn't speak English, denied them access to basic sanitary items, forced them to "remain with sheets or pants soiled from menstruation," and threw them in "solitary confinement for extended periods of time because of their inability to understand and thus follow a command given in English." His excuse? "They are in the United States, and they should start speaking English," he said in a 2006 interview.

As it turns out, according to Mendelsohn's research, Arpaio's immigrant ancestors didn't speak English for a long time after coming to the U.S. Additionally, Arpaio's well-documented disdain for "chain migration" (a derogatory term used to describe family-based immigration) seems especially hypocritical given that Mendelsohn found more than a dozen members of Arpaio's family who came to the country using that very method.

5. White House chief of staff John Kelly derided undocumented immigrants as people who "don't integrate well."

Kelly made news for comments about immigrants saying they are "not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society" and adding that "they don’t speak English ... they don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills."

According to Mendelsohn's research, Kelly's own great-grandfather had lived in the U.S. for 18 years, during which he didn't make an effort to become a citizen or speak English. It seems his own relatives are precisely the kind of people he says he doesn't want in the country.

6. Conservative commentator Tomi Lahren said, "Stop rewarding illegal behavior and put law-abiding Americans first."

"You don't just come into this country with low skills, low education, not understanding the language and come into our country because someone says it makes them feel nice," Lahren said on Fox News. "That's not what this country is based on."

In a tweet, she shrugged off suggestions that we should protect DACA beneficiaries, saying, "Or we could stop rewarding illegal behavior and put law-abiding Americans first."

Mendelsohn discovered that Lahren's own extended family wouldn't have lived up to the standards she set. Speaking English? Several lived in the country for decades without picking up the language. Not "rewarding illegal behavior"? Lahren's great-great-grandfather Constantin Dietrich was prosecuted for forging his own citizenship papers.

The truth is there's absolutely nothing new about this anti-immigrant rhetoric. It's just that the targets have changed over time.

Mendelsohn's Twitter feed is full of political cartoons dating back to the 1860s warning that immigrants pose a threat to American ideas, culture, and institutions. The idea that immigrants pose some sort of existential threat to the American way of life is as old as the country itself.

"One thing you learn very quickly when you spend as much time as I do immersed in genealogical records is that with a few notable exceptions — particularly African-Americans and Native Americans — every American family story pretty much goes back to an immigrant arriving on a boat in search of opportunity. It's just a question of how long ago it was," Mendelsohn says.

She hopes that by providing this much-needed historical context — by pointing out that the same stereotypes being used against immigrants now were once used against many of these critics' own ancestors — she can help bridge the gap between ideologies. Her project isn't about shaming anybody; it's about asking them to consider their own history.

"By using the historical record rather than relying on stereotypes and fear mongering ... people realize just how alike we all really are," she adds. "I want it to bring people together. Three of my grandparents were immigrants. My mother-in-law is an immigrant. My best friend's parents were both immigrants. I've always been incredibly proud of that."

A common rebuttal to Mendelsohn's work is that things were different back then and that people came here the right way. She has thoughts on that too.

"The 'legal' argument is specious because illegal immigration is a wholly contemporary concept," she says. "I recently saw a 1903 ship's manifest where a man said only that he was coming to America to meet a friend, 'address unknown.' Many of our ancestors pretty much waltzed in, only having to prove they were healthy and not criminals. That needs to be taken into consideration when you laud your ancestors for coming 'legally.' There's also a lot of mythologizing about our ancestors doing everything the 'right' way that evaporates when you look at the historical record."

Jennifer Mendelsohn. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Mendelsohn.

"Many of our ancestors cut corners as well. Many never learned English. Many never became citizens. There's no shame in that whatsoever. That what makes America America. People are people, and the immigrants hoping to come here today and realize the American dream are no different than our ancestors were, except that they may come from different parts of the world. Which is, of course, what many of these people are actually responding to."

In the end, the message is clear, and it is simple: We need to stop using fear to divide one another.

This comes up all the time. When announcing his run for president, Trump warned of immigrants who "have lots of problems," bringing drugs and crime to our country. Politically, maybe that message resonates with voters (he was elected, after all). Is that really who we want to be as a country, though?

"The bottom line is that there is a great fear and prejudice against immigrants, and it's the exact same fear and prejudice that has been directed against immigrants for centuries," Mendelsohn adds. "The people now speaking out against immigrants are, ironically, descended from people who were themselves discriminated against, and I'm here to remind them of that."

via KTLA 5 / YouTube

A little after 7:30 on Tuesday night, Los Angeles County Sheriffs received multiple reports about a herd of cows running through the streets of Pico Rivera, a city 11 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

This Twitter video does a perfect job of encapsulating the surprise residents felt when they saw 40 cows running through their quiet suburban neighborhood.

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via KTLA 5 / YouTube

A little after 7:30 on Tuesday night, Los Angeles County Sheriffs received multiple reports about a herd of cows running through the streets of Pico Rivera, a city 11 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

This Twitter video does a perfect job of encapsulating the surprise residents felt when they saw 40 cows running through their quiet suburban neighborhood.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."