Liberty for ‘All’ is Not Up for Debate
The Great Experiment. The land of promise. The home of the free.
This country can be a cruel beast but even in our darkest days, we’ve held tight to glimmers of hope. From the Mayflower to the southern border, people of all stripes have come to this country in search of a better life. We are a nation of immigrants from the far reaches of every place on Earth. There is no other way to define it, nor should there be. There are few things not up for debate — and “liberty and justice for all” is one of them.
“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!”
The poem that sits at the feet of that beacon of hope means something to every descendant of every immigrant that dared the journey to get here. We have not always, or seldom ever, lived up to that graciousness but it remains the guiding principle, to be held dear and fought for when we’ve strayed along the way. This is one of those times.
President Donald Trump just shot another hole through our value system around immigration with his announcement Monday that Green Cards won’t be granted for immigrants who do not pass a wealth test. His merit-based and Norwegian preferences have been on display since the campaign days, but in office, he is using every possible tentacle to restructure the face of the country…quite literally to look like his.
He basically explained that people without abundant financial means are a drain on the system and that anyone deemed to be likely to need some form of temporary government assistance is unworthy of being an American.
His lackey, Kenneth Cuccinelli, who directs the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, jumped right on board with the president’s assault on immigrants. As news rolled out about the new restrictions slated to take effect in October, people naturally questioned the policy’s alignment with our values and the words etched on our Statue of Liberty. Cuccinelli responded with a poem of his own:
“Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
Let’s not mince words, a vast majority of immigrants need a little help up when they first arrive here. This is not a new thing. Throughout history, immigrants were notoriously poor as they stepped foot on our shores or across our borders. But immigrants, being essentially the entirety of our population, worked hard and earned solid livings, built businesses and the infrastructure under our feet. It is the grit of immigrants that makes this country what is. But according to Cuccinelli, that promise of opportunity does not belong to “all.”
In an interview, the director repurposed the poem to infer that it only applied to European immigrants, who to be fair, mostly arrived here penniless. The America-for-Europeans-only shtick is simply not true and the assertion is absolute proof that fascism has taken hold in our federal government. True story.
If we’re going to go down the path of chastising the poor, we should by all means start by looking at U.S. citizens first. According to the U.S. Census, the two states that saw an increase in poverty rates between 2016 and 2017 were Delaware and West Virginia. In 2017, Delaware’s white residents accounted for 62.2 percent of the state’s population with a Hispanic population of 9.3 percent; in West Virginia, white people accounted for a whopping 92 percent with less than 2 percent of people identifying as Hispanic.
In that same time, 20 states saw a decrease in poverty — California and Florida were among the six states found to have decreasing poverty rates for at least four years out of a five-year monitoring period. In contrast, California’s population in 2017 was comprised of 39 percent Hispanic residents, which is 2 percent higher than the white population. In Florida, nearly 60 percent of the population was white with Hispanics coming in second as almost 26 percent. So, if we are to evaluate the value of immigrants from Southern America in light of financial success, Cuccinelli may want to review his European stance.
But this isn’t really about who can best contribute to the country, is it? Trump immigration policies blatantly ignore the positive roles immigrants play in the grand scheme of this Great Experiment, not because he’s interested in saving on welfare costs, but because he prefers a pale America as much as he prefers soldiers who weren’t captured.