By Ian Christensen
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Emma Lazarus wrote this poem as she watched the Mother of Exiles be erected above the New York harbour. She saw her lamp lifted above the gates of liberty, and dreamed of a new paradise. A new refuge. A new home. This was the place that Lazarus and 42 million others have dreamt of while crossing enemy lines, treacherous waters, and cruel terrain with nothing to their name. A Land of the Free, where every person was equal, welcomed, and given a clean slate to enjoy life to whatever capacity. What happened?
The New Colossus so vividly imagined by all those who founded that nation has never come to be. A nation that was founded by immigrants, built by immigrants, and thrived through immigrants has never seemed to shake its deathly fear of immigrants. Even as Lady Liberty was born in 1875, shops lined the streets assuring ‘’Irish Need Not Apply’’, while her newest residents were crowded into slums and alienated from society.
The reality is that this land has been in an eternal struggle with its own identity. We are so proud of our heritage, and our multiculturalism, and yet are so adamantly opposed to any newcomers destroying our way of life, or our culture, or our language. Luckily, one group of people finally made a stand to stop this anarchy caused by immigration.
In 2011 Alabama passed Law HB 56 by a landslide vote, requiring police to ask for papers of anyone they deem to look like a foreigner. Of course, by ‘’foreigner’’ they meant anyone with brown skin, and within a year 80,000 Latinos fled the state. It was a remarkable success, as a wave of ‘self-deportation’ kept Alabama clean of illegal free riders. At least, it was a success until those 80,000 people also took with them $10,8 billion in tax revenue, and a severe loss in the agricultural labour force. The state, who largely depends on agriculture for income, dropped in GDP and could not replace the gap with citizen workers, who worked less and demanded higher salaries and benefits.
Yet when Donald Trump passed through Alabama during his presidential campaign, he drew one of his biggest crowds—over 30,000-where he was praised for his anti-immigration strategies like ending birthright citizenship and creating his own ‘deportation force’.
The issue here is not economics, or crime, or any kind of quantitative factor. Immigrants are not responsible for all of the nation’s crime, nor are they stealing anyone’s jobs or eroding ‘American values’; no, the issue is that Americans have created a ‘habitus’ within the core of their thinking. Years of socialisation have left an unbreakable, inhuman image of what an ‘immigrant’ is, and people are genuinely terrified of a great monster knocking at their door.
In his book, A Nation of Immigrants, John F. Kennedy, a son of immigrants himself, notes that ‘’the same things are said today of Mexicans that were once said of Irish, Italians, Germans and Jews: ‘They’ll never adjust; they can’t learn the language; they won’t be absorbed’’’. He goes on to claim that the same rhetoric has been said of immigrants since the first stance was made by a congressman in 1797…only years into the new country’s life.
It is far easier to blame a vulnerable minority when government is failing to satisfy the majority. It happens a lot, actually. You might have heard of how Adolf Hitler was able to turn all of Germany’s anger against the Jews, or when the Ottomans blamed the Armenians, or most recently when the Hutus turned against their Tutsi counterparts in Rwanda. I’m not necessarily equating genocide to xenophobia, but every major disaster started with the same process of systematic dehumanisation and ghettoisation that we see in our cities and media today. Next comes detention, and then worse.
Luckily it’s the 21st Century. Our society is too free, too open, and too progressive to allow anything like that to happen again. Simply put: we’re just too ‘woke’ for this to pass under our noses. Sure, the US has since opened over 200 detainment camps to deal with migrants, and sure, within these camps are over 15,000 children not including the adults…and sure! 22 people have kind of just…died…but I assure you, all is well on the home front.
From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome; ‘Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!