Posts Tagged ‘Emma Lazarus’

YOUR HUDDLED MASSES

In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote the poem “The New Colossus” to help raise funds for a base for the Statue of Liberty. We all know, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” What to make of those words today?

I love the Statue of Liberty. In February 1906, Chaim Shlioma and Kayleh Perelstein, their 2-1/2-year-old son Moishe—my father Morris—and two daughters, Elka and Etka, sailed into New York Harbor. They’d left Warsaw, Poland, then part of the Russian Empire, because opportunities there for Jews were scant and pogroms frequent, like those in Kishinev and Kiev in 1905.

I fantasize that my grandfather held little Moishe aloft and pointed to “The Lady.” America!

From 1885, Eastern Europe’s huddled masses—Jews, Poles, Slavs, Italians, Greeks (many Germans and Irish came earlier)—entered America by the millions. In 1924, Congress slammed the door shut. America, which long excluded Chinese and savaged its black citizens, had grown increasingly anti-Semitic. Only white Protestants need apply.

Sounds familiar? Yet the huddled masses continued to bring their dreams from every corner of the planet and helped build—and defend—this nation. In one generation, the descendants of the “wretched refuse” became “real” Americans. Should America now fear new additions?

It’s sensible to continually reassess immigration policy, because while history may repeat itself, it’s neither cyclical nor entirely linear. But change is real.

The Perlsteins (we later dropped an “e”) arrived in New York only 12 years after the American frontier was declared closed. Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona were territories. (Alaska and Hawaii became states more than 50 years later.) In 1906, America’s population was 85 million. The nation sought immigrants to work on farms and ranches, in mines, steel mills, factories, stockyards and urban sweatshops. Immigrant laborers would swell production and also serve as consumers.

The dream of America in a challenging world continues. But our population is 330 million while our land mass remains the same. That population has shifted. As eastern and northern cities aged, we flooded the Sun Belt. Oklahoma City has more people than Baltimore, Albuquerque more than Cleveland, and Phoenix—the nation’s sixth largest city—more than Boston and Detroit combined. Our most populous state? California.

We’re now post-industrial with artificial intelligence threatening millions of jobs. We need fewer strong backs, more education. As always, the poor will need help. A century ago, family along with religious and community groups helped pave the way. Public assistance wasn’t an option. There was none. Today’s non-profits will need to step up their game.

This stated, we can and should welcome new immigrants. We still need farm workers, meat packers, restaurant workers, roofers and healthcare workers. More doctors and nurses, too. So, how many of who?

We’ve yet to hold an objective, expertise-based national discussion. Congress concerns itself with the immigration’s politics. The president, a nativist, and his far-right supporters want educated Europeans—whites. The far-left preaches virtual open borders, leaving unconsidered impacts on federal, state and local budgets, as well as on social upheaval.

It’s critical to salute the ideals represented by the Statue of Liberty while seeing things as they are—to be hard-headed without hardening our hearts. I believe that “The Lady” I love gets that.

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AMERICA’S REAL CRISIS

On Tuesday night, Donald Trump offered his pitch on TV that America needs a wall across our Mexican border because we face a grave crisis. The president was right. But not necessarily about the wall.

Most Americans agree that the United States has a right to control its border and who may enter the country, including refugees. This does notrepresent an anti-immigrant stance. Despite Emma Lazarus’ moving poem, we no longer can open our borders to all the world’s tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We’d be swamped. Moreover, the nation has changed. In 1906, my father—as a small child—sailed into New York Harbor past the Statue of Liberty. America’s western frontier had been deemed closed less than 20 years earlier. The Wright Brothers flew the first powered airplane little more than two years before. Now, we’re a post-industrial society.

Will more wall—we’ve built over 700 miles of barriers, many during the Obama administration—best secure our border with Mexico? Maybe. Read Bret Stephens about Israel’s “smart fences” in yesterday’s New York Times. The problem is, Trump spews hysteria, obscuring reasonable discussion.

Effective leaders examine potential solutions to problems rather than pre-determine them. They call on experts—widely scorned by those on the right—listen to ideas, then propose approaches based on reality rather than ideology or politics.

Congress doesn’t help. It continually fails to pass comprehensive immigration legislation. Some members feel heat from the far left, who want open borders. Others fear the far right who, like Trump, would accept limited numbers of ethnic “Norwegians,” who meet their definition of true Americans as white Christians.

Lately, Trump said he’ll accept a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall. Yet former White House chief-of-staff John Kelly stated that the idea of a concrete wall was shelved a year ago. Trump kept trumpeting that wall to incite and deepen his base rather than widen it. He insists that Congress appropriate $5.7 billion for a symbol of border control, not a well-thought-out solution. And Mexico will pay now thanks to the recent trade deal. Really?

Engaged in a pissing match with the new Democratic House majority, Trump insists that the 800,000 federal workers going without paychecks today support him—and will if the government shut-down continues for months, even years. Really?

Frank Bruni wrote in last Tuesday’s New York Times that “it’s not really a wall that Trump is after, if indeed it ever was. It’s a victory for victory’s sake. It’s a show of his might. It’s proof of his potency.” Bruni added, “Seldom has a president’s ego been this tender, and seldom has it required so much shoring up. There’s not enough concrete in creation for that job.”

Like the Energizer Bunny, Trump keeps on going. On Wednesday, he said he has a right to declare a national emergency. Yesterday he said he well might exercise it.

A workable new immigration policy demands stepping back to lay out the facts and objectively determine our options, no matter how imperfect. That our president is incapable of doing this represents a true national emergency. His insistence on a wall as a political sop to his base sends a loud message that the Oval Office is swamped by ignorance and incompetence. That’s America’s real crisis.

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