“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” This is an excerpt from American poet Emma Lazarus’ sonnet “The New Colossus.” It was engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903. It was and is intended to welcome immigrants to the United States of America.
Who are the immigrants of today? Do they arrive tired, poor, and huddling in a mass of humanity, with hopes and dreams of a safer, better future? Did our own grandparents and their grandparents generations before us arrive in this way? Might our own ancestors have traveled across dangerous oceans, deplorable and inhuman conditions, hungry and spent from the land they left?
My ancestors traveled down from Canada. Yes, this is one border of the United States. Just last month, amid moose, fox and deer, I drove to the Canadian border. I was not met with soldiers, nor vigilantes with guns, threatening my life. I was not in fear of losing my life coming or going. My family tree continues across the Atlantic Ocean, to the south of France. It most likely goes further, but it is where I presently stopped searching.
My husband’s family roots also come from across the Atlantic Ocean, to Ireland, once struck with a potato famine and war. Immigrants want better living conditions, and more humane treatment.
My family is not alone. Unless you are a native born American Indian, and might I add Spanish or Mexican back in the days of and prior to the Louisiana Purchase, everyone one of us are immigrants, or descendants of immigrants.
Why do modern day “Americans” feel the need to close the borders? The greater paradox is that it seems to be the Christian right-wing, proposing to be Christian, a group that at least according to the Bible ought to taking care of the poor and hungry and destitute among us, that appear to be fueling the fire of small-mindedness.
Closed minds that also want to close borders, do not solve the problem.
There is a way to deal with crime, gun/drug/sex trafficking, and terrorism, without punishing innocent people who are seeking a better life. Criminals need to be dealt with law abiding justice. But not all criminals are immigrants, and not all immigrants are criminals. It is not a criminal act to immigrate to this country.
Contrary to the arguments given by some, immigrants will not take all our money, nor all our jobs. They are also not receiving the benefits they are often accused of receiving. But if they are working in this country (at jobs few of us would take), they ARE paying taxes that they do not reap the benefit of.
Every single one of our family ancestors who immigrated to this country did not have to go through the complicated channels that immigrants have to today. The small-minded thinking creeps in when we say things like, “My ancestors immigrated to this country, but they did it legally.” The term “legally” is really hysterical when you accurately remember just what it was that our parents, grandparents and generations before us did when they merely walked through Ellis Island. In some cases they only had to sign their name, and if they could not write, they simply had to make an “X.”
The immigration process today is being investigated by all involved. It’s about time. With all our education and technology we have in this world today, this problem is not beyond solving.
Emma Lazarus agreed.
Lazarus was born July 22, 1849. She was raised a Sephardic Jew, and displayed an early talent for poetry. She attracted the notice of Ralph Waldo Emerson with her first book, Poems and Translations (1867). After this, her poem “The New Colossus”, written in 1883, was chosen to be displayed at the Statue of Liberty.
She is not alone in recognizing the human hopes and dreams of immigrants.