In 1883, when Emma Lazarus penned her immortal poem that graces the base of the Statue of Liberty, she was speaking of the safety and opportunity that America offered “the wretched refuse of your teeming shore”. America has always been a country built on immigration and migration. Immigrants have fed our industries, built our farms, provided us with great inventors, as well as artists. (Ms. Lazarus’ Jewish American family had been in the US since before the American Revolution). Immigrants have contributed to the prosperity and power that we as a nation so often take for granted.
The English came in the 1600s and developed lands to the detriment of the Native Americans. The Scots-Irish did the same in the 1700s. Like the Latin Americans and Middle Easterners of today, the Irish Catholics, Eastern Europeans and Chinese arrived in the 1800s in search of a better and safer life. This country is built by “your tired, your poor, and your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. Over the centuries existing Americans resented these foreigners based upon preconceived stereotypes, bigotry and fear of job loss. This nation even attempted to send African Americans back to their countries after forcing them here in chains generations earlier.
We appear to be in another period of fear and oppression toward immigrants. We fail to remember that many of our own families would not be here today if barriers had been in place generations earlier. Are we trying to prevent our nation from prospering from a new influx of talent, ideas and entrepreneurship? This is a country that has proudly called itself a melting pot. We can’t afford to build walls if we want to keep America great. Instead we as a nation must continue to lift our “lamp beside the golden door”.