Immigration: Don’t give us your ‘wretched’
Sorry, Emma Lazarus, it’s time for a rewrite, said Zak Cheney-Rice in NYMag.com. Her 1883 poem, “The New Colossus,” inscribed at the Statue of Liberty’s base, famously reads “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—a “welcoming” message on behalf of a nation of immigrants. But last week, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, announced a new rule barring green cards to legal immigrants who get any public assistance—even Medicaid—and proposed an update: “Give me your tired and your poor…who can stand on their own two feet.” Cuccinelli clarified that when Lazarus wrote “wretched” masses, she was thinking of “Europeans” who weren’t really all that poor. In other words, nonwhite people from “s---hole” countries need not apply. Cuccinelli is ignoring his own lineage, said Dave Goldiner and Laura Nahmias in the New York Daily News. His great-grandfather was a dirt-poor Italian laborer who arrived “with no education and little or nothing to his name.” All that separates the Cuccinellis from today’s black and brown immigrants “is time.”
Asking immigrants to stand on their own feet is hardly “un-American,” said Kyle Sammin in TheFederalist.com. In 1882, Congress passed the first major immigration act, which declared that “any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge” shall not be eligible for immigration. Subsequent immigration laws left the public charge doctrine “essentially unchanged.” The Trump administration simply wants to make sure immigrants granted legal status aren’t coming here to be on the dole. Fortunately, most immigrants come “looking to work,” not to collect handouts.
When Lazarus wrote her poem, said Esther Schor in The New York Times, the “wretched” immigrants were Eastern European Jewish refugees, who streamed into New York Harbor amid fears that an “army of Jewish paupers” who didn’t speak English would burden America. Lazarus argued through her poem that “aiding the poor and oppressed of all lands was the mission of America.” The ethnicity and skin color of immigrants may have changed since 1883, said Daniel Fried in CNN.com, but their spirit is the same. “Immigrants who walk 2,000 miles to reach our southern border” and “take jobs in poultry plants at minimum wage or less,” are quite capable of “standing on their own two feet.”