The Land Of Opportunity?
“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!" so reads an excerpt from Emma Lazarus’ 19th century poem “The New Colossus” that is engraved on plaque located inside the Statue of Liberty.
While not originally meant to be a beacon of hope welcoming immigrants to America’s shores, The Statue of Liberty eventually became such. Nearly 14 million immigrants were processed at Ellis Island, located in the shadow of Lady Liberty. The role Ellis Island played in our nation’s history is so immense it is estimated that close to 40 percent of all current US citizens can trace at least one of their ancestors to it; nearly half of the entire US population…that’s not even calculating those that have ancestral ties to Angel Island. Even Looking past the immigration boom of the late 19th and early 20th century the original “settlers” (in quotations because America had already been “settled” by the Native Americans) were immigrants as well.
So what does all this mean? Immigration is the stitching that holds the American fabric together. America would not be America without the influence of the numerous cultures that grace this nation’s shores. As California Representative Ami Bera said, “Our nation is built upon a history of immigration, dating back to our first pioneers, the Pilgrims. For more than three centuries, we have welcomed generations of immigrants to our melting pot of hyphenated America: British-Americans; Italian-Americans; Irish-Americans; Jewish-Americans; Mexican-Americans; Chinese-Americans; Indian-Americans.” However, despite immigration being the foundation of the United States, a certain part of the United States has always been hostile to immigrants. Why would those here because of immigration greet immigrants with hostility? Threat? Xenophobia? These days immigrant hostility is mainly directed at our neighbors south of the border.
Hostility towards immigrants is incredibly odd, given our nation’s aforementioned immigrant background; it’s almost as if the general population has amnesia; those who show the most hostility towards immigrants of today can undoubtedly trace their heritage back to the immigrants of yesterday. Ann Coulter, conservative commentator, when talking about Donald Trump’s proposed wall said, “I love the idea of the Great Wall of Trump. I want to have a two drink minimum. Make it a big world-wide tourist attraction. And every day live drone shows whenever anyone tries to cross the border.” Coulter is of Irish decent, the same Irish that endured more persecution and hostility upon arriving in the US than nearly every other nationality, so much so that they were often affectionately labeled “white negroes.” Donald Trump himself, a man so outspoken against immigration is of German and Scottish decent. In fact, Trump’s grandfather only immigrated to the United States 130 years ago. More shocking are the words of Marco Rubio, Florida senator and presidential candidate, “Our immigration system needs to be … more welcoming of highly skilled immigrants and the enormous contributions they can make to our economy”, shocking because Rubio’s father and mother only immigrated to the US from Cuba in 1956…and they were a bartender and a housekeeper respectively.
What happened to the land of opportunity? What happened to the nation that welcomed, even though begrudgingly at times, individuals in search of a new beginning? Why are our some of our leaders (current and aspiring) even considering denying those trying to escape poverty and violence the chance at a new start? Why must many in our nation look upon immigrants with disdain, often forgetting their own origins? How dare we look down upon the European nations turning Syrian refugees away when we treat refugees attempting to come here like dirt?
We should embrace those already here undocumented and welcome those yet to come. As Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said, “We are a nation of immigrants. I am the son of an immigrant myself. Their story, my story, our story is a story of America: hard-working families coming to the United States to create a brighter future for their children. The story of immigrants is the story of America, a story rooted in family and fueled by hope. It continues today in families all across the United States.” Let’s become a nation that calls for and accepts the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Let’s become a land of refuge. Let’s become the land of opportunity.