Don’t Be Tricked Into Feeling Bad America! We’ve Been Wrong About Immigrants.

 Savin Hill Bill wrote in response to my blog about the caravan heading to our southern border: “Interested in the [immigration] issue? Read BC Prof Peter Skerry, and his recent article, WHAT EMMA LAZARUS MEANT, in Nov/Dec THE AMERICAN INTEREST . . . .”

In the past I’ve read about Lazarus so I was  interested. I did not find his recent article but I did read an article by him in 2006 titled “Mother of Invention” which most likely expresses similar thoughts.

Skerry describes Lazarus as “The daughter of a wealthy sugar refiner, Lazarus was a secular, assimilated Jew. But in the early 1880s, as Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia began to arrive in New York, she became a champion of her people.”

True though that be, he leaves out so much more than that. She was a brilliant woman privately educated fluent in German, French, and Italian. A prominent writer who wrote poetry, plays, essays and translated foreign poets among other things. She had little to do with the plight of the Jews until in her early thirties when she began working with those who had come to America escaping from the Russian after the assassination of the Tsar Alexander II in 1881 which was blamed on Jews. She then shed her hands off approach and began to work among the poor Jews surviving hand-to-mouth the slums of the city. Her poem “The New Colossus” came from that experience and her heart.

The Statue’s originally was named “La Liberte eclairant le monde” (Liberty Enlightening the World). Skerry says the Statue of Liberty “was intended as a beacon of hope to those struggling for liberty in their own lands, not as a welcome light for those seeking liberty here. . . . “. That may have been its intent in 1875 but the huge influx of immigrants that came to America after its light was turned on showed the European monarchs made it clear that under them it was futile to hope for liberty. Sadly, today, when its light is more needed than ever it has been all but extinguished.

Skerry noted that the refugees coming into New York saw the Statue as “a symbol not merely of welcome to immigrants but, more specifically, of refuge to those fleeing persecution  and oppression.” He quotes the “dean of American immigration historians,” John Higham, “the immigrants saw Liberty “not as a beacon to other lands but as a redemptive salutation to themselves.’”

Skerry suggest we should not focus only on that. He wrote Lazarus’s words about immigrants “yearning to be free” were not necessarily true. He said: “many immigrants  have come to the United States not on account of lofty aspirations for political freedom but because of much more mundane appetites for economic security and advancement. Obviously these two are not unrelated. But they are distinct and should not be so readily confounded.”

How could they be distinct? The idea of freedom is inextricably linked with the ability to earn a living, as FDR said at the 50th anniversary of the Statue’s dedication, people came because they did not have “liberty of conscience, liberty of speech, liberty of the person, liberty of economic opportunity”

Skerry then suggests when Lazarus wrote “your tired poor . . . The wretched refuse of your teaming shore” she erred. He notes poor people would not be able to pay for a transatlantic passage so the immigrants arriving had to be of “modest means.”

Skerry seems intent on changing our conception of immigrants. He wrote in the American Interest, a right of center magazine: “In fact, most immigrants to North America have not typically been the poorest of the poor. As economic historians Jeffrey Williamson and Timothy Hatton have persuasively argued, throughout the 19th and into the 20th century, it was seldom the poorest strata of sending societies that migrated to the United States. Rather it was those with the cultural capacities and financial means to plan and pay for Transatlantic travel. Even among those who might today be considered refugees or even forced migrants—Jews escaping Czarist pogroms or Irish peasants fleeing famine—it was those with relatively greater resources who were most likely to pick up and leave.”

Skerry is telling us: Lazarus was fooled. Those Jews living in the crowded, disease infected, slums on the Lower East Side that she tried to help could have easily moved up to a nice apartment on upper West Side. FDR was fooled into thinking the immigrants came “to start at the bottom without influence, without money, . . . “ adding “They came to us – most of them – in steerage.”  So was I fooled. The children of my grandparents never had to go down to  the railroad tracks and look for pieces of coal that fell off passing trains.

I never knew there were upper class poor these professors from their elysian perch seem to have discovered. I don’t believe any of them worked among the poor as Lazarus did to feel it on their skin. Did you ever wonder when Jesus said: “The poor you will alway have with you” which poor he was talking about?

Skerry is offering his thoughts in light of the recent immigration from Central America. He wants to suggest we treat these people differently because other folk even more destitute than them have been left behind. Skerry’s intent is to have us view the immigrants in a different light. He wants us to forget they are desperate people seeing both the safety, freedom and economic assistance our country offers. He wants us to look at them through cold eyes as people looking to take advantage of our country. He tells us “immigrants do not seem as grateful to be here as Americans would like.” It’s all right then that we not be tricked into feeling bad for them.

Do people of modest means walk thousands of miles?


4 thoughts on “Don’t Be Tricked Into Feeling Bad America! We’ve Been Wrong About Immigrants.

  1. ” The children of my grandparents never had to go down to the railroad tracks and look for pieces of coal that fell off passing trains.”

    Hey Matt — The children of my grandparents did go down to the railroad tracks as the trains were pulling in and picked up the lumps of coal that fell off (or were thrown off) the passing trains. My parents and uncles and aunts told me so.

    All four of my grandparents were born in Ireland between 1881 and 1883 while that poor country was still under the cruel heel of Britain. Unable to find work, they emigrated to the U.S. at the beginning of the twentieth century (1899 to 1902). They were poor, poor, poor — not of modest means or anything close. They moved to the pitiful slum dwellings in the appropriately named Lower End of South Boston, and were lucky to find work as laborers, porters and domestics, the most menial level of labor in the NINA era (No Irish Need Apply) — but it was at least work. They left their homes and families out of absolute poverty and necessity. They left to find work – not welfare – and as much freedom as was available in these “No Nothing” days.

    When my grandfather was asked “Hey, Pa. Would you like to go back and visit the Old Country”, he replied “Why the hell would I want to go back to that place.”

    Do people of “modest means” leave their homes and families and risk their lives to travel to hostile environments where they are clearly unwelcome by the powers that be – whether they be Irish, Italian, German, Jews, et., etc., etc.?

    I think Professor Skerry is full of you-know-what !!!

  2. The President now plans to change the 14th Amendment to stop US citizenship through ‘anchor babies.’ Ireland had to hold a national referendum to end it when hundreds of pregnant women started arriving at Dublin and Shannon airports.

    The Twenty-seventh Amendment of the Constitution Act 2004 amended the Constitution of Ireland to provide that children born on the island of Ireland to parents who were both foreign nationals would no longer have a constitutional right to Irish citizenship. It was approved by referendum on 11 June 2004 and signed into law on 24 June of the same year. Nearly 80% voted to end ‘birth tourism.’

    1. Henry:

      Trump is not planning to change the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment. Like with other provisions in the Constitution he doesn’t believe they apply to him so he’ll just ignore them.

  3. Matt: Do you favour coming into the US legally or illegally? Shouldn’t every country have control over its immigration, if allowed at all?

    “According to the 2016 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, the United States admitted 1.18 million legal immigrants in 2016. Of these, 20% were family-sponsored, 47% were the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, 12% were employment-based preferences, 4% were part of the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, and 13% were refugees and/or asylum seekers. The remainder included small numbers from several other categories, including those who were granted the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV); persons admitted under the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act; children born subsequent to the issuance of a parent’s visa; and certain parolees from the former Soviet Union, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam who were denied refugee status.”

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