On a plaque at the feet of the Statue of Liberty is a message scrawled in bronze, it reads “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-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”. These words come from New Colossus, a poem written by Emma Lazarus as a fundraising effort for the statue. These words carry the ethos of America, a home for those who have yet to have one, a house for the refugees and wide eyed migrants who come tumbling upon our shores in search of freedom, prosperity, safety, and genuine happiness.
But what of that promise now? Who does Lady Liberty keep her light shining for? It’s been discussed for almost a month now, Donald Trump’s banning of immigration from 7 Muslim majority countries, his ending of the Syrian refugee program, and the continued mass deportation of undocumented aliens across the Southwest, all of which have continued to galvanize activists across the globe to take a stand against this injustice.
Yet even with his executive orders being stopped by federal judges in multiple states, Trump looks primed to sign a modified executive order, one that is likely to escape the arms of checks and balances. And while many are standing behind our president, those who do so fail to understand the importance of immigration, not just for America, but for the world at large.
To begin, the free movement of people across borders is a fundamental necessity for the modern world. No matter how much we hate it, the jobs of Cold War America are now long dead. The miners, factory workers, and day laborers who brought this country to its current level have found their vocation taken over by automation or simply found that the market has shifted away from their product. But hey, thank god we overturned a rule to prevent dumping mining extracts into streams, getting rid of those “pesky” regulations sure did a lot for those whopping 70 jobs it created in Pennsylvania. But I digress.
Migrant and undocumented workers now assume the occupations that may American’s either have no interest in working or cannot access these jobs. Across a broad swath of this nation, many agricultural, sanitation, and housekeeping jobs are assumed by workers not originally from here. And there is absolutely no shame in this; honest work deserves honest pay. Well, except if you work for Trump’s pick for Budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, who failed to pay $15,000 in taxes for his housekeeper.
The rhetoric the Trump campaign took on to make America great again centered around a number of populist arguments, most of which centered around a South Park-esque approach to immigration. Aside from the shouts of “they took our jobs!”, the inherently xenophobic, racist outlook on immigration is set to put America back some hundred odd years. What more, this sentiment, largely perpetuated by people who were once themselves historically shit listed simply because of where they were from, fail to see the irony in okaying this backwards approach to immigration. Remember no Irish need apply? Oh, I member.
Jokes aside, the stories that surround this current crises provide far more poignant takes on a very real, very human issue. Take, for instance, Juhel Miah, a math teacher from the UK who, on a recent trip to the US with some of his pupils, was removed from their plane in Iceland before it began its final leg of the trip. Not only did Miah have proper documentation for his entry, but Trump’s initial order is still suspended following a decision by the Federal Appeals court on February 9th. Yet still, Miah was stopped, detained, and forced to leave his students, held in a hotel with “holes in the room” and a tattered bed. Similar standards we once relegated debtors too in poor houses. All this because of where Miah was originally from. Apparently flying out on a UK passport won’t protect you from an overbearing, overreaching immigration plan.
And it continues, with mothers and fathers being ripped from their children and sent hundred of miles away, like Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, who was recently deported to Mexico following an ICE round up last week. de Rayos had previously been arrested in 2009 for using a social security id number that didn’t belong to her to get a job at a waterpark in the Phoenix area. She pleaded guilty and received two years of probation. All was fine until she walked into a routine ICE check in and was hit with the news. This anecdote in particular raises concern for who is being targeted by these raids, because what threat does a mother of two pose if her only crime was trying to put food on the table for her children? Furthermore it highlights the importance of these immigrants to our economy, which, according to a 2013 Social Security Administration report, played out to the tune of nearly $13 billion dollars. And of that money paid? Only about one billion dollars was given out in benefits to those same workers according to the report. Perhaps fiscal conservatives should ask our President to leave the country, considering a man who bragged about not paying taxes for 20 years provides less to this country than those he has spent a year vilifying.
But it’s not just the economic cost, or the growing consortium of stories that mirror the same plotline of parents being ripped from their children and teacher being profiled; it’s the fact that America has always been a place for a new beginning, a place to escape the horrors of an old house and find oneself a new home. America was built by refugees fleeing religious persecution from its conception, and then became a superpower only once it took on the title as a Great Melting pot. Take a look at New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Miami, Chicago, an endless list of great American metropoles that had their legacy forged by migrant hands.
The only recourse we can take to these actions is to stop, and think for a moment, about the last few times we turned away people who so desperately needed a new home. I think no better story captures the anxiety and fear that comes with situations like these than that of FDR turning away a ships full of Jewish refugees because they feared some among them may have been Nazi spies.
It’s easy to fear those we do not know, to shift and place blame on people who may not share our religion or norms, but it’s not something that will do America well. If we continue down this path of isolationism, of xenophobia, we will only further create a divide among ourselves, and more so, unravel the very nature of what America stands for.
Since she first landed on Liberty Island, that beautiful green woman has been a beacon, an unflinching light that promises safety and sanctuary for anyone who wants it. Yet tonight, as the sun sets across our nation, as Trump’s executive order is refitted, when I look out my window,
I don’t see that light. I just see darkness.