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” by Emma Lazarus, a sonnet mounted on a plaque on the inner wall of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal
Isn’t it funny how things can change in just a hundred years?
It used to be that America was the land of opportunity for impoverished immigrants from all over the world, who funnelled through Ellis Island by the thousands and then into America, where they could make their fortune (or, more likely, be taken advantage of by unscrupulous sweatshop managers) in more freedom than they ever could have enjoyed in the old world.
Fast-forward a hundred years or so. Now, it seems, we don’t want anybody else’s tired or poor anymore, as we’ve got more than enough of our own to deal with. However, someone forgot to tell the foreign tired and poor in question, and now there are an estimated eleven million of them living within our borders. What’s more, a lot of these eleven million have relatives who are legal American citizens—because relatives immigrated legally, or by marriage, or else because anyone born on our shores, whether their parents are legal or illegal, is a citizen of the United States.
There have been cases where husbands and wives were separated by deportation of one or the other. There have been cases where non-citizen mothers have been deported without their citizen children. What we have, then, is a big ol’ mess.
And now the government is looking at ways to make it worse. A bill has already passed the House of Representatives and is being considered in the Senate that would make it a felony to be an illegal immigrant, and a federal crime to aid illegal immigrants. Thus, partly-legal families who have family members who are illegal could in one fell swoop find themselves all in federal prison—the illegal ones for being illegal, and the legal ones for not turning them in.
Pardon me if I don’t find this to be a terribly forward-thinking solution to the problem.