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An American Cyber-Column By Rich Galen
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Has Lady Liberty Reached
Her Sell-by Date?

Rich Galen

Thursday January 18, 2017

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  • We're still stuck on immigration policy. And when I write "still stuck" I am not writing about Donald Trump's comment from last week.

  • Since the fifth grade you've known that the sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus which is carved into the Statue of Liberty in New York and contains the following lines:
    "Give me your tired, your poor;
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

  • Its title is "The New Colossus" and was written as one of the many fundraising efforts to pay for the Statue. The title is a reference to the Colossus of Rhodes - the statue of the Grecian Sun God erected in 280 BC. It was proclaimed one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

  • 2,166 years later, in 1866, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated.

  • Three years before that, Emma Lazarus published her poem, urging the recognition that the United States was a place of refuge, of welcoming, of new beginnings for those who had the wit, the initiative, and the creativity to leave home and family to sail under Miss Liberty's torch. Literally if coming though New York Harbor, figuratively if entering from anywhere else.

  • In the 1880s just as in the 2010s who was welcome and who was not was a matter of hot debate.

  • In 1882 the Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act which was the first law restricting immigration. Californians were concerned about being overrun by Chinese who were arriving in waves to take on hard labor jobs.

  • Eager to test out its post-Civil War powers, the Congress went on to pass a law which, according to galegroup.com, forbad the entry of "convicts, idiots, lunatics, and those likely to become a public charge."

  • How amused they would be to know those same prohibited classes are largely responsible for running our country 136 years later.

  • Most immigrants from Europe came through Ellis Island (the Island on which the Statue of Liberty sits was called Bedloe's Island until 1956 when it was renamed Liberty Island). According to History.com, the first immigrant to sign in was a young woman from County Cork who arrived after a two-week trip in steerage on January 1, 1892.

  • Young Annie Moore was not the first immigrant. In 1620 a group of about 100 Puritans showed up at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. In the first recorded example of "chain migration," again according to History.com, "By some estimates, 20,000 Puritans migrated to the region between 1630 and 1640."

  • I can just hear the relatives taking them to the boat for the passage asking, "Why do you want to go to a s**thole country like America?"

  • I wouldn't wonder if the Native Americans didn't whine and complain that these Puritans were going to wreck everything.

  • They were right.

  • The next wave of people weren't particularly willing participants. Convicts from Europe were sent to America as indentured servants - they were for all intents and practices slaves to whoever paid for their passage until they were repaid. And, of course real slaves brought from Africa.
    "Twenty Africans who were forced into indentured servitude in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. By 1680, there were some 7,000 African slaves in the American colonies, a number that ballooned to 700,000 by 1790."

  • In the 1840s nearly half of all immigrants were from Ireland. The Irish wave crested at about 4.5 million people. Germans created the next wave with nearly five million coming to the U.S. during the 19th century.

  • We've talked about the Chinese tide in the 1800s and at the end of that century Italians from Southern Europe, Jews from Eastern Europe and people from all parts of the continent were heading to America in search of a better life.

  • My forebears were part of that wave. Both sets of grandparents came across in the early years of the 20th century.

  • With every succeeding wave the people who were already here complained about the influx of foreigners. It is like the definition of an environmentalist: A person who already owns their house on the beach.

  • Another part - a less well-known part - of Emma Lazarus' poem goes like this:
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome.

  • Has the torch of the woman named "Mother of Exiles" dimmed? Is the Statue of Liberty beyond her sell-by date?

  • Nah. We've been through this before and, in spite of the most dire predictions, immigration has generally made America stronger and richer as well as more diverse and more free.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the Emma Lazarus Sonnet, to the Chinese Exclusion Act, and to the History.com look at immigration.

    The Mullfoto is a license plate that made me think of "The Sound of Music."

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