American poet Emma Lazarus wrote a sonnet in 1883, distinguishing the Statue of Liberty from gilded, imposing monuments designed to deter enemies:
“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!'”
The New Colossus
Today the administration released a new set of immigration guidelines, a revised set of rules about who may pass through our ‘sea-washed, sunset gates.’ No longer, it seems, are we interested in lifting our lamp for the ‘tempest-tost’ of the world. Deportations will increase, and criteria for having our ‘world-wide welcome’ revoked include more than a criminal history or a record of felony wrongdoing. Being here without legal status itself is grounds to be gathered up and ushered out. Recall that people in the process of trying to obtain legal status (naturalization) have a 3-5 year time window of mandatory residency, to even apply for legal status. If you arrive in the United States desperate to begin a new life and lacking the right paperwork, you start someplace. You get work. You find a home. You build a community. You face prejudice. You work toward legalization of your immigration status. Some officials now recommend getting a driver’s license as soon as possible, to help people avoid being caught up in raids.
This administration’s new guidelines authorize deportation of millions who have worked and raised families here, without breaking any law other than their undocumented arrival in our country. A recent CBS News poll found that over 60% of Americans believe undocumented immigrants should be able to stay and eventually apply for citizenship, while 13% say they should stay without a shot at citizenship. There is no mandate for immigration policy changes that are so cost-ineffective and unrealistic.
A USA Today editorial highlights both the questionable moral authority and the unrealistic cost burdens of this move: “…the policy announced Tuesday threatens people who’ve previously had little to fear: People who’ve committed misdemeanors, say shoplifting or traffic violations. People charged but not yet tried, who under our system are viewed as innocent until proven guilty. People whom authorities encounter and consider a threat, an absurdly broad category. …The policy calls for hiring 10,000 new agents, assigning more immigration judges and building additional detention facilities in a system that is already overwhelmed. All that takes time and will require billions of dollars more from taxpayers.” All of this at a time when illegal immigration is not actually increasing.
Persons experienced at working with immigrant communities recognize a risk in this approach: anyone with an undocumented family member will now hesitate to call for police or firemen when needed, to report domestic violence, to serve as witnesses in criminal investigations, and to participate in any civic activities, in case they end up being detained or deported by immigration agents. The current president supports expanding local law enforcement duties to include immigration work. Don’t our local law enforcement officers already have enough vital issues on their plate?
It bears examining the family history of a few of the administration’s own members. Our country’s immigration history is complicated, to be sure. Would the people now closing the gates be in their current positions of power if our previous leaders had made it impossible to get here from the ‘teeming shore’ whence their own ancestors came?
The man who signed the sweeping and unconstitutional travel ban to keep immigrants and refugees out of America, even as his son wants permission to bring in foreign workers for his winery, has immigrants on both sides of his lineage. The current president’s paternal grandfather arrived in America as a German immigrant in 1885, despite the family’s deceptive cover story about Swedish origin. The president’s mother arrived as a Scottish immigrant in 1929, and became a naturalized citizen in 1942. Although he does not often refer to his mother in public, he apparently spoke of her to one of his ghost writers: “Part of the problem I’ve had with women has been in having to compare them to my incredible mother… smart as hell.” Not sure how much any of his wives enjoyed that comment. His first wife was born in Czechoslovakia in 1949, married the then-real estate developer in 1977 and became an American citizen in 1988. His third wife, the current first lady, was born in Slovenia in 1970. She arrived in America in 1996 to work and make a new life for herself in the land of the free; controversy remains over her legal status between arriving in August and receiving her work visa in October of 1996. She received a green card in 2001, married her current husband in 2005, and became an American citizen in 2006.
The president’s son-in-law’s family might not have been able to become American, under the current immigration and refugee bans that he is helping the administration develop. His grandmother survived the Holocaust and additional devastating conditions, unable to gain entry for many years to the U.S. due to immigration quotas. She looked back years later and recalled “Nobody opened the door for us, nobody wanted to take us in…We never can understand this.” Could she ever have suspected that her own grandson would do the same to others?
Keep the Faith. Stay Awake.