20 November 2015
I love my country, but my country frightens me an awful lot these days. I despair at the widespread forbearance of hatred, which has reached an intensity unparalleled in my memory. From this restive mood has sprung a national conversation that shocks and dismays me: mass deportation.
I grew up in a land that seemed to slowly be learning to accept human diversity. My generation was the first to benefit from the Civil Rights Movement, and in consequence my children have never known a white bread world. Not long ago, I believed that We the People had come a long way. Yet in the past decade, Americans have become obsessed with deregulating weapons and regulating people who aren’t white, Christian, and straight. Both trends, I think, reflect a growing mindset of fear, of which hatred is a natural byproduct. Humans use hate as a defense against forces that strike fear in their hearts. Paradoxically, they then employ hate in an offensive maneuver to stave off attack. Such thinking goes: if we hate (fear) something, better to eradicate it first, before it gets us.
Hatred makes for a powerful rallying cry. To that end, some candidates for the 2016 presidential election have chosen as their scapegoat du jour the 11.4 million illegal immigrants who have come to the U.S. seeking a better life. They cast these people, who hail mostly from Mexico and Latin America, as criminals and leeches. Ironic, considering most Americans’ immigrant ancestors were regarded in the exact negative light, yet our Irish, German, and Italian (choose your ethnicity) forefathers proved otherwise.
When discussing immigration, one can’t help but think of America’s most revered symbol, Lady Liberty:
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles…
Our national icon presides over New York City’s harbor and its one-time immigrant gateway, Ellis Island. With beacon held high, Liberty cries,
“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!”
Freedom…it’s everything America stands for. Although most of my ancestors arrived long before the Lady was conceived, long before an authority could stem the tide of huddled masses, they came in the name of all she represents. They came for liberty, to make a new life for themselves, and they came without Native Americans’ permission.
FORTY PERCENT of all American citizens can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island. Think about that. Four out of every ten people you meet descend from the 22 million who entered America through that golden door between 1892 and 1954. The Golden Door. Such was, and always has been, the allure of the United States of America. Regardless of our actual imperfect reality, the world considers us the Land of Milk and Honey.
But rather than living up to that shining ideal, we have lately taken to spitting on it. We Americans fight over money, skin color, and personal rights. We condemn each other’s morals, and we’re certain that everyone else wants to kill us. We accuse illegal immigrants, who account for just 3.7% of the population, of driving our society down the tubes. I doubt that most of us really believe all this nonsense, but where we’re complicit is in permitting a vocal few to speak as if they represented us all. For indeed, what depths we have stooped to when we applaud a presidential candidate who calls for the mass deportation of ELEVEN MILLION PEOPLE and the construction of a WALL stretching hundreds of miles?
There is so much wrong with this idea, from logistics to funding—which experts estimate would run 100 BILLION dollars—to the sheer immorality of rounding up people who are essentially Americans and dumping them into a desert. Never mind that their disappearance would devastate our economy by leaving whole industries unmanned; even discussing this subject besmirches our name. Remember the Berlin Wall and the barbed wire fence that used to run down the center of Germany? Remember the Jews shoved into boxcars, or the Japanese Americans sent to camps in the West? Remember Bosnia and Rwanda? The Trail of Tears? No matter how one might couch it, there is nothing humane about singling out people to expel from one place to another. There is no possible way to do it and maintain the moral high ground.
We are better than that. We live at the feet of the Mother of Exiles. We are the world’s first cultural melting pot.
It’s time America took back her place as role model to the world. It’s time that America remembered her roots. Throngs of global refugees present a separate crisis that must be dealt with as well, but in the meantime, eleven million residents require immediate integration so that they may pay taxes and contribute their share to Social Security. The obscene alternative—measures like walls and mass deportations—must vanish once and for all from our public dialogue.
This is America, land of opportunity, land of liberty and justice for all.
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
Not with fear, not with hatred. With Brotherhood, my friends. Let us all lift a torch.
To read more letters, click on The Path!