Donald Lambro

I recently met a man in his mid-fifties who told me he came to America as a very young person with less than $25 in his pocket and made a pretty good life for himself here.

As the son of Albanian immigrants who came here with just the clothes on their back, I love such stories about the people who come to this country, filled with hope for a far better future and a willingness to toil long hours to achieve the American dream.

This gentleman told me how he worked 18 or more hour days, six days a week, on his feet, for decades, gradually climbing the economic ladder. He married, raised a family, saved his money and bought a home that he proudly said he owns "free and clear."

At a time when immigration has become a fierce political battlefield, particularly as it pertains to illegals, but even to those who come here legally, we need to remember how our parents and grandparents came here to make a better life for themselves and for us. And, in the process, helped to build this country into the largest economy on the face of the earth.

And it is during this debate that I most look back on my father's inspiring story, overcoming huge odds against him to become a businessman, employer, homeowner and an investor in our country's future.

He emigrated from poverty-stricken Albania as a very young boy, alone, and barely 12 years old, in the 1920s -- sent here by his widowed mother in the hope for a better life than faced him in post-World War I Eastern Europe.

Carrying a small bag of belongings, with his boat and train fare carefully sewn into the lining of his native clothes by his mother, he set forth on a perilous journey to the New World in July 1923.

Starting out on foot across treacherous mountains and farm fields, he made his way, often with the help of people his mother had painstakingly arranged to escort him along portions of his trek into Greece, then across the Adriatic Sea on a small boat to Italy, and then by train to Naples, where he boarded a passenger ship bound for America.

He once told me how he was taken down to the lowest, cheapest level of the vessel, known as "steerage" back in those days, where bearded, menacing men frightened him and made fun of his clothes, sometimes poking him.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.