Lt. Gov. Brown’s grandmother was an illegal immigrant

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Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown

At a United Seniors rally in Annapolis Wednesday morning, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown made an unusual revelation in response to a question I asked about in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

Turns out his Jamaican grandmother illegally immigrated to the United States sometime in the 1930s after the Cuban government had thrown out migrant Jamaican workers during the Depression.

I was the moderator and questioner at the podium for Brown’s appearance before several hundred senior citizens at their annual rally at St. John’s College, so I wasn’t taking close notes and have no direct quotes. But Brown confirmed some of the details in a later conversation.

Asked about the controversy over in-state tuition and other benefits for undocumented aliens, Brown said his response to the issue was very personal, since he is a first-generation American. His mother was born in Switzerland, and his father is a black Jamaican.

He described a fairly complicated story of how his grandmother was working for an elite Spanish family who had homes in Cuba and the Carolinas. When Cuba threw out the migrants to preserve jobs for Cubans, his grandmother Ida, who died in 2008 at the age of 102, was working in the Carolinas and decided she had no good prospects in Jamaica, where she had left her son Roy.

A driver for the Spanish family suggested she come to New York’s large Jamaican community. She did, first working there as an illegal immigrant, but eventually gaining her citizenship by marrying an American.

According to letters Brown found helping settle her affairs after her death, she also arranged to have her son Ray sent to New York, where he eventually attended Fordham University and went to medical school.

Brown said he only learned these details from his father after his grandmother died in 2008.

His father went on to prove that you could be a doctor and not be wealthy, Brown joked. Roy Brown raised five kids and cared for patients, many of whom did not have the money to pay their bills. Now 87, his father still sees patients one day a week, Brown said.

It was this message of service and giving back to the community that led to Brown’s own career. He went to Harvard University and then its Law School, with a five year stint flying Army helicopters in Germany in between. That led to more than 20 years in the Army Reserves.

Thus Brown showed how a low-paid immigrant illegally in the United States managed to produce a family that gave back to the community through his physician father, himself and his siblings.

The audience of seniors responded to the very personal case for helping illegal immigrants with warm applause.

–Len Lazarick