…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!”
These words, excerpted from Emma Lazarus’s sonnet at
the Statue of Liberty, have been long lost to the feverish
demagoguery that corrupts the United States Congress.
Immigrants haven’t been welcomed by the Republicans’
Washington for a long time – particularly, immigrants with
The matter was first laid bare in debate preceding an
August 2014 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives:
Immigrants are a curse, a virus threatening the health of
the republic, a species for whom there is no place in this
The House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. Bob
Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, insisted that President
Obama’s policy of tolerance undermined the “fundamental
principles that Congress creates the law, and the president
is bound to enforce them.” How odd. The Congress had
passed no important legislation, immigration or otherwise,
since Republicans vowed to ruin Obama from the moment
he took office.
The House did bless a bill, later put in an executive order
from President Trump, that would prevent immigrants from
renewing their legally obtained work permits. Not only are
new immigrants unwelcome, those with permission to stay
will have it revoked. All of them, nearly 800,000 men,
women and children, would be deported under this legislation.
And then there is the long-sought mission to deport
another 11 million whose status is in question.
There has been no serious discussion of what we may do
to help these huddled masses “yearning to breathe free,”
no plan to expose the root cause for that surge in child
refugees from Central America, no real effort to bring
diplomacy and humanitarian aid to the front in foreign
policy; at home we hear no ringing appeal to support the
suddenly homeless who had hoped that America could
help them to live again.
Nothing at all about that. Instead, our so-called leaders
in Washington turn their backs, bickering about how best
to kick away the pests, and which plan for deporting provides
the best talking points in an election year.
Emma Lazarus’s words at the Statue of Liberty are from
The New Colossus, a sonnet she wrote in 1883. It has been
mounted in bronze inside the Statue’s great pedestal since
1903, a summons of faith for the millions of immigrants
passing en route through Ellis Island nearby, a call to all
those millions of ancestors, a cry of inspiration, the footing
for a nation that pledged hope to all who were lost.
What a mean and dirty little country we have become. Has
every shred of decency been washed from Washington?
Compassion has become an ugly word, like liberal, or
even moderate. It conjures up images of insidious radicals
hacking away at the very foundations of the American
Way of Life. For the deluded, it may mean dirty children
and their dark-skinned compadres gnawing away at our
borders or, to hear Kris Kobach, slithering into our polling
places. It suggests nonconformity and nonconformity suggests
disloyalty and disloyalty implies treason and before
we know it the process has all but identified the liberal or
the moderate with the saboteur and turned compassion into
an un-American activity, instead of democracy’s greatest
And when we begin to ask what happened to the promise
in The New Colossus and what’s really come of that
early pledge and its compassion, Washington turns away
and Congress goes on vacation.
‒ JOHN MARSHALL