“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”
Emma Lazarus put these words on the base of the Statue of Liberty in 1903, years before it would become the beacon of hope which drew over 12 million immigrants to Ellis Island. Despite the fact that Lady Liberty and Ellis Island are now only museums, 12 million men, women, and children today are within our borders, floating on the sea of insecurity that comes without papers. They came from war-ravaged lands, they came to give their children hope, they overstayed visas in attempts to get a job deserving of their education, they came to work menial manual labor jobs because it represented the first rung on the Ladder of American Dreams. They came because they heard Emma Lazarus’s words in their own language, calling them to come to the United States.
The sad thing, though, is that too many corrupt individuals are also voicing these words. Coyotes on our southern border are whispering “Dame sus Cansados, dame sus Pobres.” Too many American employers send recruiters to equate the American promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” with the underpaid, overworked conditions in their factories and fields. Countless individuals without scruples see these people without papers as easy targets for bribery, coercion, and corruption.
A headline in the Brownsville Herald yesterday stated that over 20 immigrants were hurled from the back of a pickup truck in an accident on March 27 near La Joya, Texas. Three men and women were killed when the F-150 wrecked. The driver, as usual, fled the scene and is probably whispering his smuggler’s promises to a new batch of hopeful Americalmosts.
It is vital that our nation begin to shift its treatment of extralegal immigrants from one of a “lawbreaker” to one of “victim.” The same shift happened in the American Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King did not overcome segregation despite his jail sentences; John Lewis did not lead students to prisons across the South by accident. No, the breaking of these unjust laws was vital to the Civil Rights Movement because it highlighted the fact that these men and women were victims not violent criminals. As Thoreau so eloquently wrote back in 1849, “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison” (Civil Disobedience). If virtuous men and women are being punished for living on the other side of a law, the American public must come to the realization that this law must be changed.
Extralegal residents, and those who might currently be contemplating a risky transaction with a coyote smuggler because the waiting list for citizenship is 10 years long and growing, do not break the law because they have no respect for America, no respect for the Border Patrol or our polices, no respect for our way of life. In fact, they are coming to America precisely because they honor these traditions and institutions of ours. No, if and when they break laws in order to become residents of this great nation, they are doing it only because they cannot recognize the validity, Justice, or Morality of a broken immigration system.
We must push our nation’s leaders to return to the Table of Immigration Reform which they were seated at two years ago. We must charge them to strike the Secure Fence Act, the only piece of legislation to emerge from those talks. We must call for them to dialogue seriously about real immigration reform so there will be no more immigrants thrown from the backs of pickup trucks, no more residents coerced into corruption in hopes of a green card, no more victims at the hands of our unresponsive immigration laws. The time for change must be now – it is far too late to dismantle Lady Liberty and that poem on which she stands.
Tags: america, Americalmosts, American dream, border patrol, Brownsville Herald, Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights Movement, congressman, coyote, Dame sus pobres, Ellis Island, Emma Lazarus, human smuggling, immigration reform, John Lewis, justice, La Joya, La Migra, Lady Liberty, Martin Luther King, MLK, Morality, poor, prison, Secure Fence Act, senators, Statue of Liberty, Texas, Thoreau, tired