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Lifting the Lamp of Liberty!

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These words by Emma Lazarus, taken from her poem The New Colossus, are inscribed on a tablet at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

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!


When three of my own grandparents emigrated from Poland and Austria to become Americans, they first saw The Lady of Liberty in New York Harbor, then passed through Ellis Island (where today bricks are inscribed in the names of my family), and went on to become productive parts of their adopted nation.  Grandpa Max and Grandma Regina owned and operated a tailors' trimmings business in midtown Manhattan for fifty-five years.  Grandpa Sam and Grandma Jenny (originally from Baltimore and my only American-born grandparent) ran a neighborhood store in Woodhaven, Queens for many decades. After emigrating to America, to the best of my knowledge, nobody, particularly no law enforcer, ever asked to see their papers or challenged their right to be part of the American dream.


But, of course, that was back in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, before America lost sight of Emma Lazarus' words and of the meaning of the Lady of Liberty where they are still inscribed.  That America welcomed immigrants, and indeed they became the backbone of this nation.  Immigrants tilled the land, toiled in our factories and stores, built our railroads and other basic industries, paid their taxes, and raised their children and grandchildren as true Americans.  They were responsible citizens, and would have been mortified had their "papers" been demanded of them without good reason -- for the American standard, under the rule of law, is one of "probable cause" in such matters.


But it seems that that was then, and this is now, and some in the State of Georgia, a State founded in part by British convicts shipped off to the New World and other riff raff, now want to enact legislation aimed at the harassment of possible immigrants whose papers may perhaps be unclear, missing, or even non-existent.  Wheras the Arizona law on which our HB 87 is based is of dubious legality, and even more dubious Constitutionality, amounting to racial and ethnic profiling and making some law enforcers the arbiters of our rights and liberties, that is not preventing some Georgia legislators from proposing similar bad legislation for the Peach State -- even if most of those peaches are harvested by possibly-undocumented workers. 


The reality is that most of the jobs done by such workers are jobs Americans prefer not to undertake, even in a bad economy.  The low wages and poor working conditions in many of these jobs would be unacceptable to most of us.  And the better jobs already require employers to submit Federal I9 forms which certify that workers' documentation is in order.  Indeed, immigration is, and should remain, a Federal matter, not one subject to the vagaries of legislation in each of the fifty states.  Arizona's law is way off base, but perhaps understandable given that State's long border with Mexico to the South.  Georiga, however, shares no borders with a foreign nation, and has totally different conditions.


America would be ill-served by a patchwork quilt of punitive anti-immigrant measures varying from State to State, and resulting mainly in the replacement of the rule of law by the rule of fear.  Yes, humane and Constitutional immigration measures should be enforced in humane and Constitutional ways.  But this nation of immigrants should always lift its lamp of liberty beside the golden door, whether that door is in New York Harbor or in the State of Georgia. 





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Author's Biography Eugene Elander has been a progressive social and political activist for decades. As an author, he won the Young Poets Award at 16 from the Dayton Poets Guild for his poem, The Vision. He was chosen Poet Laureate of (more...)

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