ILW.COM - the immigration portal Immigration Daily

< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

Immigrants Of The Day: Samuel Gompers of England, Joe Cook of Cambodia, and Safaa Wadi of Iraq

by Kevin R. Johnson

Samuel Gompers (England)

Gomperssamuelloc Samuel Taylor Barnes Gompers (1850-1924) was a famous American labor union leader. Gompers founded the American Federation of Labor and was president of the organization for all but one year from 1886 until his death in 1924. Gompers formed alliances with the Democratic Party at the local, state and national levels.

Gompers was born in London, England into a family that had recently arrived from the Netherlands. He left school at age 10 to become an apprentice, first as a shoemaker and then as cigar maker. The family immigrated to the United States in 1863, settling on Manhattan's Lower East Side in New York City.

Gompers became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1872.

February 21, 2008 | Permalink

Joe Cook (Cambodia)

The L.A. Times earlier this weelk ran a wonderful story on our Immigrant of the Day, Joe Cook, a Cambodian refugee who survived the Khmer Rouge genocide to escape to the United States.  Cook has spent the last five years trying to turn the former killing fields of his homeland into fields of dreams -- by bringingbaseball to Cambodia. Along the way he's lost his life savings, his car and nearly his marriage. And, Cook insists, some people in Cambodia would like to see him dead. "I want to walk away from this. I do. But these kids," he said, pointing to a photo of three shoeless children in torn clothes toting bats and gloves through a rice paddy, "baseball brings smiles to their faces."

A restaurant worker in Alabama, Cook, with some help from among others Major League Baseball, has brought youth baseball leagues to Cambodia.  In December, thanks to Cook, Cambodia fielded a national baseball team for the first time in the Southeast Asian Games in Thailand.

Cook, whose legal name is Joeurt Puk (he began using Cook after taking his first restaurant job), said he spent nearly half his childhood in Cambodia living off tree bark, insects and grass in labor camps run by the Khmer Rouge. Along the way he lost his father and two sisters, was nearly killed when a booby trap exploded next to him, then survived an artillery barrage that pounded the road he and hundreds of others were following on their escape to a Red Cross camp across the border in Thailand.

February 22, 2008 | Permalink

Safaa Wadi (Iraq)

Safaa Wadi arrived in the United States with a special immigrant visa for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters. But with his savings nearly depleted and unable to land a decent job, Wadi enlisted in the Army. He begins training in South Carolina on Monday.

Wadi isn't worried about returning to Iraq, where many of his countrymen considered him a traitor because he worked with American forces. His allegiance is now to the United States, he says. The Washington Post quotes Wadi:  "I want to serve this country because this country returned to me my life. . . . If I had stayed in Iraq, I'd be dead now."

Wadi currently shares a two-bedroom apartment in Lewiston, Maine with three other Iraqi immigrants.

Iraqi interpreters working for U.S. forces often face grave danger. They receive instant messages on their cell phones threatening harm to them or their families. Some of their cars get blown up. Some get shot. Some are killed.  The United States responded by increasing from 50 to 500 the annual number of interpreters from Iraq and Afghanistan who were allowed to immigrate here in the last two fiscal years. Wadi jumped at the chance, becoming one of 1,880 applicants for the slots.

February 25, 2008 | Permalink

These posts were orginally posted on the ImmigrationProf Blog here, here and here.

About The Author

Kevin R. Johnson is currently Dean, Professor of Law and Chicana/o Studies, and the Mabie-Apallas Public Interest Law Chair holder at the University of California at Davis. He is also one of the editors of ImmigrationProf Blog .

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.