Hey, Joe Arpaio! Your Grandma Was a Chain Migrant!

Jennifer Mendelsohn
5 min readApr 9, 2018


Notorious former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, currently running for a Senate seat in Arizona, has made no bones about how he feels about illegal immigrants. Let’s say he is a bit — how shall we say? — hard core.

But what of Arpaio’s own immigrant roots? Born in Massachusetts in 1932, he is first generation American, the child of two Italian-born parents. And, to borrow a phrase from The New Yorker, it turns out — not surprisingly — that Joe Arpaio’s grandma was a so-called chain migrant.

“Chain migration” is the anti-immigration community’s epithet for the perfectly legal mechanism by which well-vetted immigrants come to the U.S: they are allowed to join close family members already here. The policy is officially known as family reunification, and even before it was codified as policy, it was the spirit in which countless millions of Americans became American, including Arpaio himself.

So let’s check the receipts, shall we? On Arpaio’s mother’s side, the first member of the family to emigrate from their hometown of Acerra, Italy was Arpaio’s great-uncle Donato Montano, the older brother of his maternal grandmother, who arrived in December of 1902. Montano’s manifest indicates that he knew nobody in the U.S. But in he went, having to answer only a few cursory questions. He went on to become an American citizen in 1910.

Donato Montano’s arrival

Two years later, in September of 1904, a second Montano brother, Michele, a sister, Gaetanina, and Gaetanina’s husband, Domenico Buonincontra arrive together from Acerra. Michele lists brother Donato — who paid for his passage — as his contact at 62 Whipple Street in Brooklyn.

Total number in family chain: 3

Arrival of Domenico and Gaetana Buonincostra and her brother, Michele Montano

As families often do, the Montanos stuck together. In the 1905 NY state census, sister Gaetana, brother Michele, and brother-in-law Domenico are all living together on Whipple Street. The two men are both listed as day laborers.

In 1910, Montano sister number three, 20-year-old Emilia joins her siblings in America. She pays her own passage, but also lists brother Donato as her contact and is “discharged” to him at Ellis Island.

Total number in family chain: 4

1910 arrival of Emilia Montano

On December 28, 1912, Arpaio’s grandmother, Lucia Montano Marinaro, arrived at Ellis Island with her husband Francisco and their two daughters, including Arpaio’s three-year-old mother Josephine (“Giuseppine” in Italian.)

Their contact was brother-in-law Domenico Buonincontra in Brooklyn, who also paid for the family’s passage.

Total number in family chain: 8

And finally, in December of 1923, the last Montano sister, Teresa Montano Laudando, and her four children arrive in America, reuniting the entire nuclear family of six siblings. The Laudandos pay their own passage, listing brother Michele as their contact person.

Total number in family chain: 13 (14, if you include Donato himself)

As an aside, it’s also worth noting that Arpaio routinely punished immigrants for not speaking English — “They are in the United States, and they should start speaking English,” he said in 2006 — given that his own father belonged to a fraternal organization in Massachusetts that was still keeping records entirely in Italian in 1931.

via Ancestry

Did Arpaio’s family come “legally?” Apparently, yes. But it’s important to put that in context. At the time, there were so few regulations in place that there was virtually no “illegal” immigration from Europe. (Arpaio’s great-uncle Donato Montano was actually called to appear before the INS in 1932 to address some inconsistencies in his naturalization paperwork; he was ultimately cleared and issued a passport.)

And it’s also important to remember that it wasn’t that long ago that people like Arpaio, currently vilifying Latino immigrants, were on the other side of the equation. Witness this anti-Italian cartoon, which appeared the year before Arpaio’s mother arrived at Ellis Island with her family.

credit: Getty images

In May of 1924, just five months after the last of the Montanos entered the United States, Congress passed the Johnson Reed Act, which was aimed at reducing the number of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. The result was dramatic. Prior to 1924, Italians had been coming to the U.S. at a rate of over 200,000 a year; but the new law set a quota of just under 4,000 Italians a year. (The German quota, by contrast, was over 50,000.)

So Arpaio’s family managed to get in just months before the door closed on people like them due to discriminatory laws. (His father arrived in the summer of 1923.) For some people, that kind of history would generate a compassion for contemporary immigrants pursuing similar American dreams. But instead, Arpaio is one of countless politicians who seems particularly insistent — gleeful even — about slamming the door and pulling up the ladder. One of his opponents, Dr. Kelli (nee Kaznoski) Ward, descends from a long line of Polish immigrants who came to mine coal in West Virginia.

Politicians — even those descended from recent immigrants — have every right to subscribe to a “Well, I got mine” policy when it comes to immigration.

But it’s also my right to use #resistancegenealogy to remind them where they came from, and precisely how they got here.



Jennifer Mendelsohn

Old school journo. #resistancegenealogy creator. Recovering Long Islander. No, your name wasn’t changed at Ellis Island.