Friday, August 4, 2017

The Colossus and the mobocracy

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to free.

Stephen Miller posed an interesting question, "which came first the Statue of Liberty or Emma Lazarus' poem, the New Colossus?  Miller suggested the latter and so in his mind it doesn't convey the "original intent" of the statue but rather some liberal notion of what it means.  I suppose he has a point in that the statue is a glorified harbor lighthouse, but its beacon was meant to signify much more than safe passage.

French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi imagined it as symbolic of American independence.  He designed it in the early 1870s and Gustave Eiffel had a built in sent over to America in pieces starting in 1875.  The arm and torch was on display at the Centennial Exposition in 1876, but it would take 10 years before the statue was finally erected on Ellis Island, with no small measure of thanks to Emma Lazarus, whose poem was used to raise money for the construction of the star-shaped pedestal.

The poem was eventually engraved on the pedestal in 1903, which seems to have confused Stephen Miller, as he or more likely his staff dates the poem from this time.  The New Colossus was actually written in 1883 and is an integral part of the statue's history.

Clearly, Stephen Miller shouldn't have gone there.  He would have been better advised to say that the new immigration policy is little different from that of Canada or Australia, using a point system to determine the value of immigrants.  In fact, most countries prioritize economic-based applications, favoring skilled workers and investor applicants.  But, Miller tried to make it sound like this has always been the US immigration policy, which has clearly not been the case.

The US has long welcomed refugees and has had a lottery in place for decades that allows any applicant an equal shot at being selected, regardless of his or her ability to speak English or provide a specific skill.  The H-1B visa, which Miller seems to be referring to, is relatively new.  It was part of a 1990 Immigration Act, although some would argue it was never anything more than a cynical attempt to stuff the workplace with cheap, skilled foreign labor, particularly in the tech industry.

In fact, by favoring skilled immigrants over unskilled immigrants, Americans are far more likely to lose jobs in the years ahead.  Under the H-1B visa program, a company has to prove it couldn't find a qualified candidate in the US, but this process is easily abused.  So much so, in fact, that the US Citizenship and Immigration Services has a page devoted to the subject.

The unskilled immigrants, which this administration has depicted as drug dealers, criminals and rapists, actually provide a boon to the economy by taking jobs virtually all Americans shun.  Very few Americans want to work in the agricultural or garment industries today, much less do the menial work that so many of these immigrants do.  We would much rather pay someone minimum wage to do these ornery tasks for us.  An immigration policy like that which the Republican Congress and Trump set is far more likely to encourage illegal immigration to fill the economic void than it is to discourage it, as these are the types of jobs hardest to fill.

If this is a cynical attempt to try to cap the number of ethnic minorities coming into the country, as Jim Acosta suggests, it probably isn't going to work.  Nor, is it going to protect American jobs.  Nor, can Emma Lazarus' poem be detached from the Statue of Liberty.

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