Saturday, September 15, 2007

No Wretched Refuse, Please. We're Americans.

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.

Tired? Poor? Homeless and tempest-tossed? Don’t even think about it. That's over. Those famous words carved on the base of the Statue of Liberty? We're sending someone next week to chisel them off.

Emma Lazarus's sonnet was fine for welcoming our grandparents, but the situation has changed. We're no longer accepting “wretched refuse,” thank you. True, our forbears were immigrants, but they were honest, hard-working men and women trying to make a better life for their families. Not like the grifters and layabouts of today.

When I hear such prejudices spewing from talk radio these days, I always think about a boatload of Haitians, most of whom drowned within sight of shore. One of the few survivors told a reporter that in preparation for landing in America, “We were putting on our best clothes.”

New York's Mayor Mike Bloomberg is one who doesn't hold with the prevailing nativism. Speaking after a Memorial Day parade, he pointed out the practical implications for baby boomers of restricting immigration: who's going to finance our Social Security? He also urged lawmakers to look to their own history and realize that under the proposed curbs their grandparents never would have made it out of the Old Country. Or if they did, it would be on a round trip ticket.

I have a proposal. As the debate on the immigration bill heats up, lets all wear buttons proclaiming where our families started out. Mayor Mike's would say Poland. Mine would say Wales; my husband's Sicily. The only buttons that would say, “Here” would be worn by the lone group who can truly claim to be natives: Native Americans.

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