A loud chant, or a quiet poem?
“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-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
In those few precious, well-chosen words Emma Lazarus captured the essence of what I like to think of as the ‘heart’ of my country.
I’ve always thought it ironic, that the woman who wrote those words, a woman born into a large Sephardic-Ashkenazi Jewish family, would likely have been turned away trying to escape the horrors of Nazi Germany in the late 1930’s.
At the same time a plaque with her words was being placed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, the Immigration Act of 1903 was being passed, sometimes called the Alien Enemies Act. It was intended to keep out Anarchists, revolutionaries, and radical labor unionists.
The lamp beside the golden door that was a welcoming beacon was now used to show the way out. That applied to foreign-born troublemakers, and the act allowed the use of administrative procedures without that pesky due process detail.
We can go all the way back to 1798 and thank the men who wrote the Alien & Sedition Act. During World War One, that darned bit of legislation was used to round up those with the “wrong political belief” and send them scurrying.
Not to be outdone, the government dusted it off in World War Two, creating concentration camps on U.S. soil. Okay, they were called internment camps, but a rose by any other name.
Perhaps the current White House planners wish they could reach back to 1918. They could clone J. Edgar Hoover, remember him? At the time, he was the head of the General Intelligence Division of the Justice Department. He wanted to use the Alien Exclusion Act of 1918 to round-up and expel troublesome people. Giddy-up, cowboy. Let the round-up begin.
1919, Twenty some years after that Immigration Act of 1903, the act was used to deport Emma Goldman. She could be deported despite being a United States citizen. Why? Her husband’s citizenship was revoked. The government seemed to think that applied to her status as well. A case might be made that Emma wasn’t a nice person, but there a lot of citizens who aren’t virtuous people. Do we strip them? Of their citizenship, I mean.
Today, we think our status as citizens is incontestable. I wonder if we have to give that a second thought. Now it seems my quiet views are drowned out by high-flown, pompous oratory. Worse, angry words are telling me to shut up and take it.
I know this has been a bit lengthy, but I thought I would end with a list of people we have considered our enemies over time:
- Run-of-the-mill Communists
- People with epilepsy
- Importers of Prostitutes
- The wrong political beliefs
All we need to do now is update the list:
- Any Spanish-speakers (maybe Cubans excepted)
- Did I say Muslims?
- Indians (both domestic and foreign)
- ________________ Add your favorite target here
No, the current cry to “Build That Wall,” isn’t new. It’s like a cancer-in-hiding, now metastasized.
Sorry, Emma, your poem is indeed beautiful, but why does it look blurry now? Maybe we need to give it a polish.