Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Give us Your Tired, Poor Teeming Masses, No Huddle, Fourth and Long"

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"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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
-Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus

"We can't turn them away! That's not who we are!" Maybe we are, but even if so, I suspect that's not how we always were. But, before we move to make "The New Colossus" our 28th Amendment, let's parse it a bit and apply it to our present situation. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." I think that's an important qualifier right there: "yearning to breathe free". People came to America, come to America, because it is a land of freedom and opportunity. People who love freedom and desire it for themselves and others should always be welcome here.

The irony of so many people quoting the Emma Lazarus poem, ensconced on a bronze plaque on Ellis Island, is that while most of our European immigrants came through Ellis Island, it was also a point to turn some away. If you were healthy and could support yourself, Step this way! Right over here! If you were too sick to work, you were invited to go back wherever you came from, regardless of race, creed or color. I guess that was 'who we were'?

I was reading in my dead tree paper the other day, an account of a man who was seven years old in 1939, on a ship of about 800 Jewish refugees, being turned away from Florida ports. Was FDR afraid of seven year olds, Mr. Obama? They were fleeing the advent of the Third Reich, and unbeknownst to them at the time, the gas chambers of concentration camps. FDR must not have thought "That's not who we are" at the time when he turned them away.

Do we want to emulate Mr. Roosevelt? I don't think so. It does give a little historic perspective: just because you are needy, even fleeing a war zone, does not entitle you automatic entrance into the US.  (This also includes our southern border) I don't think FDR feared the potential presence of a jihadist among the Jewish refugees. Nor do we want to emulate Bill Clinton, whose jack booted thugs grabbed little Elian Gonzalez at gunpoint to forcibly remove him back to Cuba.

Seems to me, there must be a path between the two extremes of let everybody in and let no one in. I do believe though, that as we did once on Ellis Island, we should try to vet those immigrants who are yearning to breathe free and would be a good fit in our country. Despite President Stompy Foot's assertion that "Republicans fear 3 year olds", there is a real concern that an influx of single males, of military age, could contain ISIS sleepers, or yet more malcontents like the Tsarnaev brothers of Boston Marathon bombing fame and their dear sweet mother!

Our immigration policy ought not to be a suicide pact. Obama beclowns himself when he tries to minimize the genuine concerns over letting potential terrorists into the heartland, by his use of ridicule and scorn. Care should be taken to screen those coming into the country, not just for terrorist ties, but for their ability to assimilate and to keep the American dream alive for yet another generation.

Good people can differ on exactly how they might accomplish that, though I suspect the answer lies somewhere between the two extremes.

Original art by John Cox. More at John Cox Art

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