Speakers: Raymond Lahoud, Marta Gabriel
Welcome to Norris Speaks, Immigration Matters, a limited podcast series where we delve into the economic, employment and cultural realities of immigration in the Lehigh Valley and Greater Pennsylvania. I’m your host, Ray Lahoud, member and chair of the immigration group at Norris McLaughlin. On this episode, I’m honored to be joined by Marta Gabriel, a longtime friend of mine, a fellow Lebanese in the Lehigh Valley community. And I’m glad to welcome you to our podcast, Marta. How are you today?
I’m doing great, right? Thank you for having me.
I mean, it’s truly an honor to have you on here, because as I was reading about you, Marta, and I know a lot about you. I was a kid when you were going through college, you were starting your career, and I always had a lot of respect for you as you were going through your career and really rising up the ranks of the Lehigh Valley business and political scene. And as I was going back, I was reading the Morning Call article in 2015, where it had called you our Valley Girl. And that’s like a perfect phrase, that just embodies everything about you. And let’s talk a little bit about that. From Lebanon, right?
Yes, my family and I came to the United States in 1973. So I came as a child with my three brothers and my parents, and we settled in Easton.
Well Easton has a very robust Lebanese community, essentially centered around the church there. So because of that, a lot of Lebanese from the village where I’m from came and settled in Easton.
Same village, by the way. It’s a great village, you know, and proud to be a Lebanese American.
We were the beneficiaries of chain migration. So my sister who was living here; she and her husband sponsored us. So we were fortunate to have that sponsorship and that support system in place when we came to the United States.
When you say chain migration, you’re referring to being sponsored by a family member?
Exactly. Yes. Yes. And so back then in that era, when I came, that’s basically how a lot of people came back then. That’s how I know a lot of people that are here, not just Lebanese, but you know, other nationalities, people that I know from the community. They had somebody sponsor them, and they came here using that vehicle. And I know that that’s probably changed a lot since.
So let’s talk about that. I think we’re talking two different times. I mean, you came to the United States from Lebanon in 1973, you know, 1980s. A lot of people came to our community, the Lebanese community in Easton in 1980s, early seventies. My parents immigrated here ‘70, ‘78 I believe. And they are an incredibly hardworking, dedicated community. And I think about your mother is one person. And I guess, let’s talk about that a little bit. Like what’s changed in today’s immigration world?
I think expectations have changed. My perception is that the expectations have changed for when you come to the United States. The way I view it is, my family and I came, all we wanted was basically an opportunity to get established here and to work. We did not want anything from the U.S. government. I mean, we probably qualified for all kinds of social programs, but my parents refused to take any of them because they said that we did not come here for any handouts. We just wanted a hand up. That’s what the United States gave us. So my father went to work in a steel mill. My mother in a sewing machine factory. And then we went to school. My sense is the expectation today is different. There’s more of an entitlement mentality. Again, that’s my personal perception of it, is that people feel entitled to certain things. That they should be able to come here to be able to get things. And it’s a different mentality than my fellow Lebanese had when we came over.
I think about that even in the context of, you know, my mother and my father. I mean, hearing that your mom worked in the, I just remember your mom, when I was growing up, she was a grandmother to me, and recently passed away. She was an incredible person and I think about her all the time. She is, she was, she was really a grandmother and I loved her too, I have to tell you. Same way I love you, Marta. But in terms of the ideas, I think of, you know, your mom, I think of your father, my parents, your brothers and your sisters, and they’re so incredibly hardworking, incredibly passionate, incredibly American, even though they were born in Lebanon and came here, they always say they’re American. Or Lebanese American. But you know, I think that’s something we can touch upon here, is how is the Lebanese community. And you would know this more than I. How were they able to integrate and still maintain their sense of nationality and culture that they still have today down there with the festival?
Yeah. And that’s a really good question. I mean, when we came, we were really encouraged to assimilate. It was learn the language. Nobody would speak to me in Arabic. When I went to Shawnee Elementary School, back then I didn’t speak a word of English, so it was basically sink or swim. So there were no accommodations other than you had to assimilate to survive. And I think were fine with assimilating, because where we kept our identity was through our church, our church community. So there, you know, we had our mass in Arabic every Sunday, we had our festivals, we had our weddings, we had our funerals, the social activities that bind the community, basically carried that heritage and carried that sense of identity there. So we were able to become American and remain Lebanese simultaneously without a lot of conflict within. I mean, of course there were cases where people could not assimilate and, you know, there were issues that ensued. For the most part you assimilate and you…
You have to do what you have to do.
Right and I, myself, I was more than happy to assimilate because I, the way I saw it is I was given a chance to come to this great country and I was not going to blow it.
Tell us more. You’ve really worked incredibly hard since I was a kid.
Right. Well, I feel as if I was given this opportunity. I wasn’t going to squander it because I think if we had remained in Lebanon, we left right before the civil war broke out, I think our lives would have been much more difficult. Our opportunities would have been much more limited, and my parents would have struggled even more. And we would have struggled even more. So we came here. So for me, I saw it as, okay. You were given this opportunity. Really make something of it. That was my outlook. So that’s what I did. I mean, I, I studied hard. I worked hard, still working hard.
Does that still exist, though? Like, does that, do you think that still does exist in our new, say, immigrant community that’s coming here?
I think it does to a degree, but I feel like the expectation is more like, what can America do for me rather than what can I do for America? Like how can I make it a better place? So I think there’s been that shift, like, speak to me in my language kind of thing. Whereas, you know, we’re, you’re working. Precious rare opportunity. You don’t, you just don’t squander that. I mean, there are people like literally dying to get into this country.
Dying every day
Literally dying every single day.
And no human being should have to struggle like that. I think, you know, it breaks my heart when I think about that. And, and these are human beings with children. You know, I, every time I see something about refugees, my heart just breaks because if we weren’t fortunate enough to come here and to build a life here, could I have been that refugee? I don’t know. You know, like it’s, it’s so sad. I can identify with them.
How many more can this country, I mean, how much can we do as Americans?
Right. And that’s a really good question. I mean, we’re not the only country that could take people, obviously. It’s like, what, 190 countries around the globe? I think we have done our part over the years. We’ve been a welcoming society. We continue to be welcoming as a society, but you can’t break our laws. And again, this is me personally speaking. You can’t break our laws and expect us to welcome you. It doesn’t fit. It doesn’t go together. But again …
You recognize that like there is with the immigrant community. Immigration, employment-based immigration. I mean, even having worked with the chamber of commerce, there is, you know, an element of that foreign talent that’s coming in here legally, they’re going through the right process.
Right and I think, Ray, that is one of the best ways that we can help immigrants is really, I’m a big believer personally, in those immigrant visas. We need good workers. There are good people abroad who want to work here. So why have them live in the shadows? Like why don’t you give them permits to work here legitimately and contribute to society, contribute to their own livelihoods, to their own families.
And another, another thing that really stands out to me is they say there’s 11 million undocumented people in the United States. I put that number well above that, that has to get dealt with in some way, but first the opposite, they have to protect the borders, you know, before they move on with immigration reform, but we certainly need comprehensive immigration reform. But more importantly, I mean, like thinking of the future employment-based visa, because there’s foreign talent all over the world that …
And we have a worker shortage. We have a worker shortage. I mean, it’s a win-win really, why should 11 million people live in the shadows? That’s not, I mean, they’re human beings. It’s not good for anyone. No one wins in that scenario.
Yeah. I’m with you on that then, you know, nobody should live in the shadow. And then there’s that the other concern, that’s raised, if you give 11 to 20 million people in amnesty, I mean, that’s going to lead to, you know, another 30 million people cross the border. So, you know, step one is closing or fixing that issue and resolving it with the comprehensive immigration reform.
Right. And I’m not saying amnesty even like full amnesty as far as like citizenship. I mean, I am saying recognize that they violated our law. Okay. Recognize that. Put that out front and then, okay. We acknowledge that. Let’s give you a pathway to making a livelihood here, to living here. Not, not necessarily making them a citizen because that’s, they broke the law, not to have live in the shadows to contribute to the economy, to society, to be, to recognize their humanity …
Agree with you in terms of that. And like, and what’s great is that, you know, you and your family, I mean your brother Tony, your sisters, and stuff like that, and truly embody, you know, good immigration. And the Lebanese community in Easton and the Italian community in Easton really embody what good community.
The Greek community, Italian community. I mean, there’s, you know, a lot of immigrants from other countries who would just share the view and the value that I have in terms of the right way to come here. And also, who are eternally grateful for this country for what has done for us. I mean, until my last breath, I will be grateful to this country for what it’s done for me and my family.
I have to tell you, I wouldn’t be where I am. I wouldn’t be sitting in this office without that, and you wouldn’t be in there.
And if your father and mother hadn’t come here, exactly, yep.
And we think about, your mom, you know, it kinda brings a little tears here, is that your mom, you know, sitting on the front porch, and we saw her pride and they saw their pride in us getting educated, they saw their pride in us doing well, and they wanted us to achieve.
And I see that note with you and your daughter too. And my sister and her kids here, like the children of immigrants.
And I see it with your mom and she’s like, so incredibly proud of you, what you have accomplished. So again, it’s being given that chance, that opportunity, and then making something of it.
What do you see? Like, like just overall here, you know, where do you see, you know, immigration in the Lehigh Valley. I mean, you’ve worked at the chamber. You’ve worked with the U.S Senate. You’ve done a lot of work, you know, a lot of the immigrant communities, that Hispanic part of Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, you are our Valley Girl. So what do you see with the immigration in the Lehigh Valley?
Well, I, well, the one thing is I know that the Valley has benefited immensely from immigration, from all kinds of diversity here and coming to the Valley, made us a richer community. Where I see it is need to fix the system because we have a very porous border. We have people who, who were, again, we’re not recognizing their humanity. We’re not making them legitimate. We need to find a way to fix that, basically. I mean, that is a concern that I have, is that not being here legally, I think, is problematic in many different ways. And I know you deal with it a lot and you want to help people, but you also want to follow the law.
It’s a conflict I’m always facing, trust me, it really is. It’s a conflict I’m always facing.
So, again, ideally, I think if we can get, you know, more work permits, I think would be a great thing. If the H1B …
I think we just need more immigrants like you coming to the United States who are coming here willing to devote themselves and dedicate themselves, to our country and to education, to their family, to their community. Really, like you said it, you know, you came here, you were given an opportunity, you took it, and you ran with it. And I think, you know, as I go back and I look back to when I was even a kid growing up, you were a couple of years older than me …
More than a couple, Ray.
I always looked up to you, I did, the respect for you was always incredible.
Thank you, it is mutual, it is mutual.
Thank you so much. This has been Norris Speaks, Immigration Matters, a limited podcast series where we delve into the economic, employment, and cultural realities of immigration in the Lehigh valley and greater Pennsylvania. I want to thank Marta Gabriel for joining us today and each of you for listening. Be sure to tune in to our next broadcast for a brand-new episode. And if you’d like to learn more about immigration law, visit our website @ www.nationalimmigrationlawyers.com.