Saturday, October 1, 2011

Press 1 For Tolerance

"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!"("The New Colossus", Emma Lazarus)

How did we go from that welcome with open arms, engraved on a bronze plaque mounted inside the Statue of Liberty, to the hold-it-right-there request for proof of citizenship that may soon be heard in Alabama? Beats me. But, here we are.

Make no mistake. There was resentment felt by the immigrants who came here aboard those ships that sailed by the Statue of Liberty and into New York harbor. They had left their homelands to start a better life. They had no idea what to expect. And, despite the taunts and insults they heard, those “wretched refuse” were accepted and easily mixed with other nationalities in what was called a melting pot. Perhaps they were admired for their struggle. Perhaps.

But, the resentment today is just as bad and probably worse. It has resulted in the most punitive legislation in the United States. Even though the Constitution states immigration laws are the responsibility of the federal government, some states-notably Arizona and Alabama-are unhappy with the government’s slow progress and have passed their own laws. Without getting into specifics, the provisions of Alabama’s law border on, well, cruel and unusual. The law is so inhumane that an Episcopal, Methodist and a Roman Catholic bishop have sued to block it, saying it criminalizes acts of Christian compassion. Fortunately, enforcement has been partially blocked by a federal judge.

We have become a land where immigrant means illegal and illegal means welfare. And, that, in my view is why there is so much resentment. We see someone who doesn’t look like us or talk like us, buying food with stamps and we become angry. We conclude, unfairly, they’re lazy, don’t work and are taking advantage of our system and we resent it. The fact is because many can’t find minimum wage jobs, they are taking advantage of our system because they need to and that’s why the programs are there. It makes me wonder whether there would be resentment if these people were legal. Probably.

According to the Center for Immigration, the latest study shows 53% of all households headed by an immigrant (legal or illegal), with one or more children under 18, used at least one of America’s 8 major welfare programs compared to 36% of natives in same category. That means some of those folks shopping with stamps may be legal immigrants, or, perish the thought, American citizens. Like the bishops pointed out, we have abandoned our Christian compassion with the passage of this law. I have news. We lost our compassion long before the law. Seems to me.

Immigration reform is a complex issue. Unfortunately, the road to citizenship is paved with excessive paperwork, costs and time. The average immigrant, almost by definition, is uneducated and poor. Quite obviously, we need to streamline the system and our president is trying to do just that.

Perhaps if we stopped printing Spanish alongside all English on everything and everywhere it seems, because it’s unfair to all other foreign speaking immigrants, not to mention counter-productive to their learning our language, then, perhaps there might be more compassion for these people seeking a better life.

In the meantime, let’s love our neighbor as ourselves and, well, “press 1 for tolerance”.

Otherwise, we’ll have to throw a sheet over the Statue of Liberty.

No comments:

Post a Comment