The New Colossus
by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
We see reference to this poem in the news lately, so let’s talk about it. According to the US Park Service[i] Emma Lazarus wrote, and donated her poem for an auction raising funds for the base of the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France to commemorate our alliance during the American Revolution. It was converted into a bronze plaque and affixed to the base in 1903.
The statue became the welcoming symbol for the European migrations of the late 19th Century and is now intimately associated with the center on Ellis Island where people were screened and quarantined for diseases like tuberculosis. Ellis Island is also the place where so many Europeans received new names because the customs agents couldn’t pronounce or spell their real names, and many could not write for themselves.
In the main stream and liberal media, much has been made of President Trump’s proposed policy changes regarding immigration. They throw up this poem as if it were proof he is violating some sacred policy and national mandate. I find it amusing -- their commitment to pure emotion and rhetoric, rather than a debate on the facts.
Fact 1: A poem, no matter how inspiring or idealistic does not equal our Government’s Foreign or Immigration policy. It didn’t in 1883 when Lazarus wrote it. It didn’t in 1903 when it was affixed to the base of the statue. It certainly didn’t in the 1930’s when the government refused immigration of European (primarily German and Austrian) Jews fleeing the Nazi persecution.
Fact 2: The US policies on Immigration have changed frequently based on national need, perceived threats to the society, and political will. When we became a nation we “welcomed” the arrival of significant numbers of immigrants from Africa. The vast majority against their will. The legal slave trade was active until 1808. On March 2, 1807, President Jefferson signed into law the “Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves.” Although there were many who opposed changing this policy and enforcement was weak allowing slaves to continue to be imported until the civil war, it marked a significant shift in acceptance of what we view today as an inhuman policy.
Fact 3: US Immigration policy affects the US (and its 50 states), as well as the nations from which the immigrants flow.
Fact 4: Not all 7+ billion humans can live within the confines of the United States.
With those annoying facts in mind let’s talk about immigration policy and perhaps some lesser understood ramifications.
In 1921, for the first time, the Congress sought to limit immigration of the European states, arguing that immigrants from southern and eastern Europe could not be easily assimilated into the American culture. “The fear was that these newer immigrants would always be ‘hyphenates,’ or citizens who would call themselves, or be called by others, by such hyphenated names as ‘Polish-Americans,’ ‘Greek-Americans,’ and ‘Italian-Americans.’”[ii] In 1924, additional steps were taken with passage of the Johnson-Reed Act formally establishing the racially and ethnically based quota system that became permanent in 1929. The premise of this system remained in effect until 1965 when the Congress passed the Nationality and Immigration Act of 1965 removing the racially and ethnically based quota system.
American discrimination of Asian immigrants, and attempts to limit their arrival, can be traced back to 1882 with the “Chinese Exclusion Act.” Aside from the cultural bias, there was concern over the impacts of huge numbers of immigrants on the local labor pools and loss of American jobs to foreign laborers.
It is interesting the claims of those who support immigration control are not significantly different today, then they were in the past. On the other side, those who are critical of immigration control are also not significantly different than they were in our history.
The divide seems come from the understanding of personal impact to a life style. If you don’t feel your way of life is threatened then you are all for open borders. If, on the other hand, you see your job and life style at risk, then you do. We see this clearly in today’s divide where the urban and liberal elite believe they are insulated from direct loss of a life style, and welcome those who they believe to be victims of poverty or injustice in their own countries. It seems they don’t believe their livelihoods are at risk from this group. On the opposite side are those who see their incomes, neighborhoods, and lives directly displaced by this expanding group of refugees.
Now, about that third fact. As refugees flee the savagery of war, or the devastation of draught and famine, what is the residual effect on the lands and nations they leave behind? Who remains behind to rebuild or recover the nation? Regardless of the administration, Republican or Democrat, we seem to “cherry pick” those refugees or immigrants we think will support our agenda. Under the Obama administration, we opened the gates wide for those coming from Central and South America, as well as those from the middle east. There seemed to be little concern with assimilation, only the potential for them to gratefully support the DNC agenda. The current administration is attempting to close those gates and limit immigration to those who will best support the wants of our big businesses.
What we never see discussed though is the issue of secondary effects on both us (the US) and them (the nation of origin) of every immigration policy we implement. We rarely, if ever, consider the negative impacts to the countries they come from. We are taking the best and brightest, those who could make a difference if they would help themselves and their native countries to prosper. There is much talk about the consolidation of wealth and the distance between the well off and the poor. How much do we exasperate this problem in the third world, with our immigration policies when we take only the best and brightest or encourage the flight of the poorest so those countries can forget about them?
The issue of immigration remains, as it always has been, a political football. Carried by one side, or the other, to achieve a political objective rather than attempt to determine what is best. For determining what is best for all parties is impossible.