Land of Opportunity?

                          Unless you have visited New York, you might not realize these words are printed on a bronze plaque at the base of The Statue of Liberty. It certainly seems our government as well as many of our citizens have forgotten the spirit these words represent. America used to be infused with idealism. We used to call ourselves the “Land of Opportunity.” However, as we descend into the draconian, self-absorbed society espoused by our current leadership, the ideals that inspired our citizenry and the entire world are slipping away. Of course, you are free to agree with this ‘new’ direction even if it is not necessarily new. Human beings are very short-sighted when their perceived best interests are at stake, and we feel threatened and/or under attack. We went through the “Red Scare” of the 1920’s, and the McCarthy Era in the 50’s. These are only two examples where national security trumped free expression. Of course, the modern equivalent is “The War on Terror” which has consumed us ever since the attack on The World Trade Center in 2001. This is certainly a legitimate concern, but where does this “war” end? By banning everyone of the Muslim faith from our shores? Certainly we will not eradicate every threat in sight through exclusion alone.

Presently, illegal immigration is the other major concern on the scene. It is perceived by many as a major threat to our society, but not for the reasons given by the government. Whether we know it or not, this country was built by an infusion of immigrants looking for greater opportunity. Looking at our present day and time, has this fundamentally changed? If you listen to the constant drum beat from The White House, we are beset with terrorists, murderers, gang members, rapists, and drug dealers assaulting our borders in droves. Lost in the cacophony of accusations are the aspirations of immigrants… human beings like us… searching for a better life in a safe and secure environment. This is the truth of the matter beyond all the fear-mongering. The short-sighted view is that all these immigrants are a drain on our economy through the rise in demand for social services. This may be true to the extent it takes families awhile to get established in their new environs, but I don’t personally believe that is why they arrive on our shores. If social services are what they are looking for, then why not keep going north to Canada where far more generous benefits are available?

There is something far more insidious in the mix. Do we feel beset by an ‘invasion’ of those who are racially and culturally different from us? The short answer is yes. The long answer is much more complicated. We have had resistance to changing demographics for well over a century. Students of history might remember events such as “The Yellow Peril” that accompanied the influx of Chinese into California in the mid-1800s; the xenophobic responses to the arrival of Jewish,  Italian and Irish ethnic minorities into the Northeast by the predominately white Anglo-Saxon society. Often, these demographic changes were spurred by the economic reality of the times. We needed the workforce to promote the Industrial Revolution. Conveniently, the Chinese were hard workers partially responsible for the construction of the trans-continental railroad. Inconveniently, we look back on slavery as directly responsible for promoting the agrarian economy of the Southern States just as migrant labor has been so fundamental to the growth and maintenance of agriculture in many of our western states. Without a doubt, these factors have all had a positive impact on the growth of our national economy. Native Americans, on the other hand, were pushed into Oklahoma only to become an obstruction to the development of oil rights in the area. To say otherwise is to deny reality. Our economy has thrived in part on efficient, cheap labor in order to profit. What happens to those ‘instruments of convenience’ when they wear out their usefulness; or have none to begin with? Are they to be ignored and discarded? Evidently.

This seems to be the tone that is being applied to illegal immigrants on our borders as well. The message is clear. They are not welcome. Yet, who has benefited from the labor of these “illegals” in the onion fields; the meat-packing plants; the building trades; and the restaurants of America for decades? It seems we want our cake and to eat it, too. Hard manual labor is below the station of most Americans today, but somebody has to do it, right? So what is our solution? Separating children from their families in order to scare people from coming here? Building a wall to maintain The American Dream for all those contained even if we don’t aspire to change with the times? The truth is the United States has as much territory; or more, as all of Mainland China with less than a quarter of the population. Hard-line strategies will not work in the long-run. We are only alienating ourselves from the ideals that made this country great, and inhibiting further growth in the process. The rest of the world used to see us as a beacon of hope for humanity, but that outlook is quickly being eroded. While we make nice with authoritarian regimes and trash our friends and allies for not paying their fair share, we only shoot ourselves in the foot. Disdain, not respect, is the eventual outcome. As our President likes to say: “Sad. Very sad.”

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