Farewell, Lady Liberty – 1886-2018
July 10, 2018
"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore." Emma Lazarus, 1883
"The United States will not be a migrant camp and will not be a refugee holding facility." President Donald Trump, June 18, 2018
The first quote above comes from the poem "The New Colossus." The Statue of Liberty, a gift to America from France, was dedicated in 1886; the poem was added to it in 1903. For 132 years, the poem and statue have embodied America's values to people fleeing persecution and hardship. They knew they were welcome here.
The second quote shows how these values have changed under Trump. He has actively worked to cut the number of legal immigrants and refugees allowed into America. "As of the end of May, 14,331 refugees have been admitted to the U.S. in 2018." This is the smallest number admitted since 2003. (CBS News, 6/20/18).
We are a nation of immigrants. Unless you are fully Native American, you are descended from immigrants. Immigrants have always made strong contributions culturally and economically to America. In 2013, "immigrants added $1.6 trillion to total U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP." (Center for American Progress, 6/22/16).
People argue that previous immigrants came legally, but the definition of "legally" has changed significantly. "Before World War I, we had virtually open borders. You didn't need a passport. You didn't need a visa. There was no such thing as a green card. If you showed up at Ellis Island, walked without a limp, had money in your pocket, and passed a very simple [IQ] test in your own language, you were admitted…." In other words, there wasn't "legal" or "illegal" immigration. There was just immigration. (Mae Ngai, immigration historian, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/25/17).
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In 1921, immigration quotas were set; in 1924, the Border Patrol was created. Immigration laws have gotten more complex since then, and reform attempts have been mixed. In 2013, the U.S. Senate passed immigration bill S.744 by 68-32, a truly bipartisan bill. When it got to the House, Republican Speaker John Boehner wouldn't allow a vote, so it died. Republicans, not Democrats, killed this bill.
Trump falsely claims Democrats don't want effective immigration laws, but when immigration bills have been presented to him by Democrats and Republicans, he's refused them all. He's the one jamming up the works, and now he's told Republicans to give up until the mid-terms. He's gone from "This must be solved immediately!" to "Oh, well."
Trump has also proven his disdain for the Constitution. On June 24, he tweeted, "When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came." The Fifth Amendment guarantees "No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Note it doesn't say "No citizen." It says "No person." Trump's ignorance of due process is horrifying but not surprising.
Trump's most recent immigration policy separated babies as young as eight months from their parents. Children were put in detention centers or sent around the United States, while their parents were imprisoned or deported. When officials expressed concern over the well-being of these children, Trump's chief of staff John Kelly said, "The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever." Whatever? (NPR interview, 5/11/18).
Our Nevada Democratic Washington, D.C., delegation opposes this policy. Thankfully, the Nevada Republican delegation, Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei, also oppose it. Heller called it "terrible policy." Amodei said he was opposed to the practice. It's reassuring that these men recognize how un-American this is. (Reno Gazette-Journal, 6/20/18).
Trump created this crisis. No law requires separating children and parents. Under President Barack Obama, detained families were kept in family detention centers. It wasn't great, but they weren't separated.
What's worse, this incompetent administration separated families with no plan on how to reunite them. Thousands of children are in the system with no way back to their parents. We, the American taxpayers, will be supporting these children until they are 18 if their parents aren't found. Thanks, Trump.
On June 26, Trump articulated his ideal immigration policy: "I'm sorry, you can't come in." His words and actions are obliterating the values America has proclaimed for centuries. If Trump blew up the Statue of Liberty, he couldn't make it clearer that for his administration, President Ronald Reagan's vision of "a shining city on a hill" has become irrelevant. How did we let this happen?
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.