About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks at the National Conversation on Rights and Justice: "Immigration:Barriers & Access"


Japanese American National Museum, Forum Theater, Los Angeles, CA
November 19, 2016, 9:30 am

In 2014, I attended a Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library to mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The summit brought four U.S. presidents, civil rights leaders, scholars, and activists together to discuss the future of civil rights advocacy in America.One of the biggest things to come out of the conference for me was the realization that there is so much more to say about rights and justice 52 years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act. And the idea for the National Conversations was born out of this need to continue these crucial discussions. 

As a Federal agency, the National Archives is responsible for the Charters of Freedom––the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights––and for the collection and protection of 13 billion other records that tell the American story and its continued challenges and successes towards creating a more perfect union.

We have chosen the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights to open a new exhibit “Amending America,” in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC. As the permanent home of the Bill of Rights, no institution is better poised than the National Archives to not only celebrate the anniversary of this extraordinary document but also explore its meaning for civil rights today. We want to use this moment to engage Americans in conversations about complicated issues such as class, gender, politics, race, religion, and sexual orientation through the National Conversations. The content of the discussions will build on the National Archives’ holdings, connecting key foundational documents to the challenges before us. But our larger goal is more ambitious—to advance discussion of these critical issues in communities across the nation and to bring to the forefront challenges to rights and justice that persist 225 years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights.

The United States is a country built by immigrants. Most of our families came from other countries, whether it was Europe, like my family, or from other near- and far-reaching parts of the world. Of course, immigration is different today. And many of our families may not have been allowed into the country if today’s laws were in place.

In 2014, the U.S. immigrant population was 42.4 million. This includes legal permanent residents, temporary workers, and authorized immigrants. According to census data, there is an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States.

In John F. Kennedy’s book A Nation of Immigrants, he reflected that “Every ethnic minority, in seeking its own freedom, helped strengthen the fabric of liberty in American life. Similarly, every aspect of the American economy has profited from the contributions of immigrants.“

Let’s take a moment to think about some of the immigrants who have helped create the America we live in:

  • Founding Father and creator of our nation’s financial system Alexander Hamilton,
  • Naval Commander John Paul Jones,
  • Blue jeans creator Levi Strauss,
  • Sierra Club founder John Muir,
  • physicist and genius Albert Einstein,
  • industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie,
  • comedian Bob Hope,
  • actresses Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich,
  • composer and lyricist Irving Berlin,
  • director Alfred Hitchcock,
  • football player and coach Knute Rockne,
  • first female Secretary of State Madeleine Albright,
  • Basketball players Hakeem Olajuwon and Yao Ming
  • dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov,
  • Chef Boyardee!
  • architect I M Pei,  
  • fashion designers Liz Claiborne and Diane von Furstenberg
  • world-renowned cellist Yo Yo MA
  • the co-founder of Google Sergey Brin
  • and the co-founder of Yahoo Jerry Yang


I could go on and on… we are a nation of immigrants and the contributions are endless.

In the holdings of the National Archives, we have many records highlighting the immigrant experience in the United States: ship passenger Lists, declarations of intention, petitions for naturalization, photographs of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island and Angel Island. We also have acts of Congress including, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Immigration Act of 1965, and the Refugee Act of 1980.

Several National Archives locations across the country as well as other cultural institutions have hosted the National Conversations. Our first one concerning Civil Rights and Individual Freedom was held at the Jimmy Carter Library in Atlanta in May. Subsequent conversations concerning LGBTQ Human and Civil Rights and Women’s rights and gender equality were held over the summer in Chicago and New York City. Our next one will take place in Dallas in February 2017 and will concern Educational Access and Equity; and our culminating event, Building a More Perfect Union, in Washington, DC, will take place in spring 2017. I hope you will join us for these future discussions either in person or online.

I want to express our gratitude to our partner, the National Archives Foundation, for supporting this series. And a big thanks goes out to our lead sponsor for the Amending America initiative AT&T, as well as the Ford Foundation, Seedlings Foundation, and Toyota for their belief in and support of the National Conversations. 

And now we are going to view the introductory film featuring Congressman John Lewis, narrated by Cokie Roberts, entitled “Amending America.”


Now I would like to introduce our key note speaker Julissa Arce.. Julissa is a writer and author of My (Underground) American Dream. She is a leading voice in the fight for immigrant rights and education equality. She is the chairman, and co-founder of the Ascend Educational Fund, a college scholarship and mentorship program for immigrant students in New York City, regardless of their ethnicity, national original or immigration status. She made national and international headlines when she revealed that she had achieved the American Dream of wealth and status at Goldman Sachs while undocumented. Julissa now uses her success and platform to help shift the conversation around immigration and other social justice issues. She has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, NPR, Al Jazeera America, Telemundo, Bloomberg TV, and Univision. Her writing has been published on Huffington Post, Fusion, CNN en Español, The Hill, and Univision. She serves on the board of directors of the National Immigration Law Center and CollegeSpring. She became an American citizen in August 2014 and voted in her first presidential election this year.

Moderating the conversation today is veteran author and cultural critic Jeff Yang. His work has appeared regularly on CNN opinion, NPR, and Quartz, the business publication of Atlantic Monthly. He was the founder of the pioneering Asian American periodical A. Magazine: Insides Asian America and has authored and edited a number of bestselling books including I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action, Once Upon a Time in China, and the graphic novel anthologies “Secret Identities” and “Shattered.” His older son, Hudson Yang, is the star of the groundbreaking ABC television series Fresh off the Boat.

Please welcome Julissa Arce and Jeff Yang.