by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
September 6, 2005
POET FOR THE MINIONS, POET FOR THE MASSES
WARWICK, N.Y. -- As a nation, we have been so enamored of the words of Emma Lazarus, the 19th Century Jewish poet and literary figure, that we forget the lines themselves, engraved on a brass plaque affixed to the Statue of Liberty. We are such a warm-hearted people, we think of ourselves as kind and welcoming - but for some reason, this current generation of movers and shakers are saying enough is enough.
They see the people swarming in but not the faulty system that keeps it from being a well-oiled machine. The last lines of the poetic inscription read: "Keep ancient lands your storied pomp cries she with silent lips. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddle masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore; send these, the homeless tempest tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
We take that as gospel - and, it isn't - we take that as part of the Bill of Rights - and it isn't. What it is, is what people all over the world accept as our credo. They believe they can hop on a boat and row toward the lady with the lamp right next to the golden door. And, technically, they can - but as with most journeys around the world there are channels - both nautical and those directing the all comers through miles of red tape. More often than not in the last few years, it's been yellow tape, indicating a crime scene.
What's happening all along our borders to Mexico is definitely a crime. Those answering the welcoming call from Miss Liberty are losing their lives because they trust people on their own side of the border to ease the way. Last week a boatload of the "wretched refuse of your teeming shore" were put on a boat designed for less than a dozen and sent afloat with 31 passengers. They all lost their lives. The "agent" who took $3,000 each from them, with a promise of another $7,000 after arrival, only got half a fortune that trip.
If they had $3,000, why were they leaving? Oh, that's right. The Golden Door. On the same day, newscasters reported there are kidnappings in Mexico reaching epidemic proportions, committed by 16-year-old boys who wouldn't be prosecuted because of their ages. The mob hires them and, although it wasn't stated so, it would appear they are desperate to get money to pay someone to "smooth the way" into a boat headed for the welcoming United States.
The Mexicans who do arrive are detained. Since we have no facilities to house them, they are given an appointment with Immigration Department officials and told to come back on Thursday morning for a hearing. 87 percent never show up and they're integrated into our society. Why haven't we learned from the past? A few years ago, the story was about the Chinese. A passenger would arrive at JFK International Airport in New York and could not produce his passport.
The passenger would be detained in a glass enclosed office where passersby could see him. After a brief interview, he'd be given an appointment with the Bureau of Immigration in lower New York. He would then disappear into the fabric of our lives and never show up for the appointment. While he was being interviewed, there was usually someone outside just casually waiting around. They would leave together.
I recently scanned a travel brochure that had a warning: Be aware the language in the local communities is Chinese, not English. In Flushing, 20 minutes from Times Square on the number 7 line to Main Street, there are five separate Chinese languages being spoken. Also, although every storefront is supposed to use both Chinese and English as identifiers, they don't. This is not to infer the residents are illegal, just to say we are not enforcing the laws we have on the books.
We could all be so comfortable and welcoming with all immigrants coming here because they want to "breathe free." I'm not sure exactly what Emma Lazarus meant when she wrote: "Keep ancient lands your storied pomp," but I interpret it to mean all the history and pageantry of the old country should be left there while they embrace our history and culture. Perhaps the recipes, the culture, the attitudes, the faith - all the things that are part of their ethnicity - should continue to be part of their lives. But what made the United States special and attractive to them should not be altered, only advanced.
Language is a serious concern, yet who is learning what to make it easier? I'd be willing to learn Chinese, but five separate languages to shop in Flushing? And, do I have to step into five shops to find a bakery or a barber? We have an expression for everything and they are usually born of experience. I'm thinking: It's like locking the barn after the horse has been stolen, and too little too late.
"One at a time, one at a time," the guards say as they direct the teeming masses attending a rock concert. It starts out that way, but soon the stampede begins and people have died just when they thought their evening would be rosy. The Statue of Liberty may have a welcoming beacon in her hand and soft motherly words on her lips, but she's courting disaster. How easy it would be if the message sent forth from her light was a list of instructions on how to get the key to the golden door.
We all came from someplace looking for something. The Native Americans welcomed us. We, in turn, welcomed millions and still have room for millions more. But, it's the huddled masses that are breaking our infrastructure. No, I don't know more than the authorities working this system. But, I'm on the street in New York often enough to know every nationality in the world passes through each day, and most have a family enclave within its borders. I live on St. Simons Island, Georgia, and I see Mexicans work from dawn until dusk in hot humid weather keeping it clean and green; it is a virtual verdant wonderland.
Our immigrants are hard-working people - they always have been. But our melting pot is overflowing because a system designed for law and order is running on empty.
Here's a little look at what's happening: A friend, native of Trinidad, planned to move to the United States upon retirement. After applying, he was told he would have to have $150,000 in an American bank to assure that he would not be a drain on our society. He complied. That was two years ago, and he's still on the list. This same man tells of his daughter's friend who came to the United States two years ago after having applied as a migrant worker. He arrived here, he disappeared into the crowd and is still here. I'm not sure if he's a drain on our system, but he certainly got around it.