By Edwin Crayton/Opinion
The words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty say quite a lot. They are from an 1883 poem by Poet Emma Lazarus titled New Colossus. The ending has become famous because the thoughts symbolize the spirit of a nation that welcomes those seeking relief from suffering and tyrants. Those words are these: “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!” Beautiful. In her hand is a torch that lights the way to a free world. But if you were to look at the news lately, you would be right in wondering if some people believe that torch should be replaced with a big fat, red stop sign. I am talking about the noisy debate about building walls to stop Mexicans from entering the U.S illegally. That is a key word in all of this: illegally.
Many in the nation—more often Republicans– are feeling that illegal immigration has become epidemic. They point to the large number of illegal immigrants working in the U.S. and claim that this is hurting employment for Americans. They are urgently seeking a solution and are compelled to even consider building a wall to keep these illegals out.
On the other side of the fence (pun intended) there is an opposing group, usually liberal Democrats, who point to those words on Miss Liberty and remind us all that it is immigration that built the nation. They urge us to open our hearts wide and our borders wider. They say, let the Mexicans in, and some go so far as suggesting ways to give benefits to illegals already here. Who is right? Is it possible as happens in many heated arguments, that both sides may have a point? The Trump White House has made it clear they believe border security should be seen as a top priority. They are urging the building of the wall and President Trump has had a noisy televised argument with Democratic Leaders over this. Some of those opposing the president claim he is racist. But is he? Border security is a responsibility of every president and although Mr. Trump is very aggressive, does it make him a racist to want to do all he can to secure borders, when that is a mandate of the office?
On the other hand, people who support his position seem to believe that those on the other side don’t care at all about homeland security. They suggest that these more liberal Americans are recklessly open to leaving the borders unprotected and letting anyone in without any kind of screening. They point out that among the many Mexicans headed here illegally are dangerous people—you know, drug dealers, users, rapists, killers, etc. However, when you see photos or news footage of the illegals, they look like ordinary families often with small kids. Seems both sides have a tendency to lean to the extreme when characterizing the opposing camp and when depicting who these Mexicans are and why they’re headed here.
The Mexicans themselves either say they are fleeing persecution or poverty or both and are just seeking a better life. That should sound familiar because it is what the immigrants from Europe said in earlier centuries. If they are right, that brings up a series of questions. First question: Do we owe these Mexican Refugees the same assistance we owed those fleeing dictators and starvation decades earlier?
What are we saying when we turn away the desperate? Are we so hard up as a nation that the words on the Statue of Liberty no longer apply? Can we no longer help those who are trying to provide a better life. Do we need to say to them sorry, but they need to seek help elsewhere, because we are “full up”. If so then maybe it’s time to remove this inscription encouraging the “homeless, the tired, the huddled masses” to come this way. But would doing so count as a sin?
On the other hand, why can’t authorities enforce the immigration laws that are on the books? Why are those laws there and why can’t we allow law enforcement and the Immigration Department to go ahead and enforce what has been legally approved? If we disagree with these laws, why don’t we change them? But if we have laws and they are not enforced, what does that do to our society. When officials refuse to obey certain laws but insist on enforcing others doesn’t that create chaos? And let’s face it, this debate cannot honestly take place without using the word “illegals”. Of course, I can hear radical voices pointing out that all Americans are illegal as this was the land of Native Americans. But let’s get real about this. The current laws on the books are still laws. All nations place limits on immigration. Enforcing immigration laws is standard everywhere in the world.
Maybe what we need most is for people on both sides of this immigration debate to stop the shouting matches for a while and take time to close their mouths and open their ears to truly hear the other side and realize this is not truly a simple an issue as both sides present it. Solving it will require thought and creativity.
For my money, I like the words on the Statue of Liberty. And I believe removing them will cost more than the wages of the workman who would be paid to remove them. Sure, living up to them has never been easy. But America became the nation it is because God blessed America through the blessing of immigration in large part. Yes, these Mexicans are illegal immigrants, and that is not a good thing. But they are still immigrants and immigrants have been major contributors to building the America we live in. Among earlier immigrant groups was a Albert Einstein, Irving Berlin, Joseph Pulitzer, Andrew Carnegie, Bob Hope, Heddy Lamar, (Hollywood star who helped invent digital cell phone technology) Cary Grant, and even Trump’s wife First Lady Melania Trump. Immigration contributes to our nation, because immigrants come prepared to do so. Escaping poverty and cruelty we can’t imagine, they enter these shores motivated in ways natural citizens often are not. One argument for keeping Mexican illegal immigrants out is that among them are criminals. Maybe. However, what if among them are real contributors, like those on the list. What if one of them is the child who will one day grow up to find the cure for cancer? You never know.
Maybe that is one reason past generations have not taken down the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. And why as we debate the issue of immigration we would do well to read and reread those words, pray and remember the promise of America so when we portray and present ourselves to the world as a freedom loving resource for those in need, we are not guilty of false advertising.
“Love thy neighbor as thyself.”