A friend sent me an image of the Statue of Liberty, her hands covering her face, the torch of liberty gone. As I studied that photograph, I realized that she was either unwilling to face what was ahead or profoundly appalled by what has been.
Not only is the statue, by her very presence, facing out, toward the horizon, a statement to the world of our nation’s values, there is a plaque at her base that reads, in part, “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.”
But clearly, the Trump administration is not interested in keeping open a golden door. Nor does it beckon the huddled masses yearning to be free. Do not send us your homeless, or tempest-tossed, your tired, or your poor.
This posture started with the promise to build a southern border wall (paid for by Mexico!), then the Muslim-ban, followed by the robust efforts to deport undocumented immigrants. This familiar attitude has once again been made manifest in the newly proposed RAISE Act, which is legislation that will deal only with legal immigration.
The bill is merit-based, cutting in half all green card visas issued by the U.S. It makes mandatory the following: potential immigrants must speak English, be able to support themselves and family financially, have a skill that will add to the U.S. economy and be paid a high wage. According to the act, there would be a 50,000 cap on new immigrants to America and they would not be allowed to avail themselves of any welfare benefits. Family already residing in America will not influence approval.
This bill was first unveiled by the president and later expanded on at a news conference by Stephen Miller, a senior advisor to the president. CNN reporter Jim Acosta questioned Miller about the act and made reference to the poem on the Statue of Liberty (which was placed on the statue’s base in 1903). In essence, Acosta was wondering if the new RAISE Act did indeed reflect the intent of not only the Emma Lazarus poem but also our current immigration policy.
Miller grew immediately defensive, saying, “I don’t want to get into a whole history, but the poem you are referring to was added later. It’s not actually part of the originally (sic) Statue of Liberty.” Miller went on to explain that the “statue is a symbol of American liberty lighting the world,” suggesting that it had little if anything to do with immigrants.
Acosta asked if the RAISE Act would not potentially regulate the racial and ethnic makeup of immigrants. “Does this mean we’ll only take people from Britain and Australia?”
Miller paused, finally saying that Acosta’s comment was “outrageous, ignorant and insulting and foolish. The notion that you think this is a racist bill is so ignorant, so insulting.” Actually Acosta did not use the word “racist.” RAISE perhaps, but not racist.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll share that I was an immigrant kid. I came here with my parents following WWII. My father had been in the Danish underground, clandestinely fighting the Germans who occupied Denmark for the duration of the war.
When we arrived in America, neither my mother nor my father could speak English. I entered the first grade absent one word of English. My parents found work (dishwasher and maid) and did what they had to do. This was America. We had green cards and it wasn’t until I was 17 that I became a citizen, as did my parents. By then both my mother and father had their own businesses. We had a car, a house, my dad loved baseball, and my mother made short trips to “the old country.” I went to college.
That, in a very small nutshell, is our story, different I’m sure by only 6 degrees from the stories of countless other immigrants arriving on America’s shore, believing in that “golden door.”
Clearly, I would not have been welcomed in Trump’s America.
— Chris Honoré lives in Ashland and writes a weekly column for the Tidings.