In 2006, the Orange County Register published a letter by a man named Ernie Lujan, who suggested tearing down the Statue of Liberty because the U. S. no longer welcomes new immigrants. Many others heartily agreed, but a woman named Rosemary LaBonte did not, and wrote a response to Mr. Lujan’s letter. The OC Register chose not to publish it, but her husband did, and it is quoted to this day. In the interest of fairness, I will post both letters in this article; first, Mr. Lujan:
“Illegal immigrants have been around since the early 1900’s, except then they entered through Ellis Island in New York City. They came from countries such as Italy, Ireland, Germany, Poland and France. And now we accept them as true Americans. Now these people whose ancestors came to this country to make a better life for themselves and their children want to build a great wall along the U.S. and Mexico border and deny these hard-working people the same rights that their ancestors fought so hard and died for. If you build this wall then you must also… tear down the great Statue of Liberty that sits in the New York Harbor.”
A wall along the Southern border in 2006? Even NY senator Hillary Clinton wanted one then, voting for a bill that would have constructed a 700 mile wall between the U.S. and Mexico to help slow illegal immigration.
Here is Ms. LaBonte’s response:
“…Ernie Lujan for one, suggested we should tear down the Statue of Liberty because the people now in question aren’t being treated the same as those who passed through Ellis Island and other ports of entry. Maybe we should turn to our history books and point out to people like Mr. Lujan why today’s American is not willing to accept this new kind of immigrant any longer. Back in 1900 when there was a rush from all areas of Europe to come to the United States, people had to get off a ship and stand in a long line in New York and be documented.
Some would even get down on their hands and knees and kiss the ground. They made a pledge to uphold the laws and support their new country in good and bad times. They made learning English a primary rule in their new American households and some even changed their names to blend in with their new home. They had waved good bye to their birth place to give their children a new life and did everything in their power to help their children assimilate into one culture. Nothing was handed to them. No free lunches, no welfare, no labor laws to protect them. All they had were the skills and craftsmanship they had brought with them to trade for a future of prosperity.
Most of their children came of age when World War II broke out. My father fought alongside men whose parents had come straight over from Germany , Italy , France and Japan . None of these 1st generation Americans ever gave any thought about what country their parents had come from. They were Americans fighting Hitler, Mussolini and the Emperor of Japan . They were defending the United States of America as one people. When we liberated France , no one in those villages were looking for the French-American or the German American or the Irish American. The people of France saw only Americans. And we carried one flag that represented one country. Not one of those immigrant sons would have thought about picking up another country’s flag and waving it to represent who they were. It would have been a disgrace to their parents who had sacrificed so much to be here.
These immigrants truly knew what it meant to be an American. They stirred the melting pot into one red, white and blue bowl. And here we are in 2006 with a new kind of immigrant who wants the same rights and privileges. Only they want to achieve it by playing with a different set of rules, one that includes the entitlement card and a guarantee of being faithful to their mother country. I’m sorry, that’s not what being an American is all about. I believe that the immigrants who landed on Ellis Island in the early 1900’s deserve better than that for all the toil, hard work and sacrifice in raising future generations to create a land that has become a beacon for those legally searching for a better life….”
These letters from a decade ago were written to address illegal immigration from Mexico, which is still an issue today. It also is pertinent, however, with regards to President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s plans to open the floodgates to those from trouble spots in the Middle East.
The Left says that people who believe that social conditions were better in “the good old days” are misguided or just plain liars. Yet, who can suggest with a straight face that race relations are better now than a decade ago, or that free speech exists unsuppressed in today’s world, with all the micro-aggressions that injure the delicate snowflakes in college campuses? Ask any conservative speaker disinvited from speaking there, or worse, verbally and physically attacked for their presence in someone’s “safe space”.
After eight years of President Obama, who can claim that the U.S.’s place in the world has not deteriorated? That former friends, like the Philippines, openly state their disdain for the U.S.? That Russia and China act with impunity to annex parts of other countries, or make islands in the South China Sea on which to plant their flag? It appears to me that the “good old days” did, indeed, exist just a decade or so ago.
Most immigrants from previous generations successfully assimilated into American culture while keeping alive aspects of their own culture. Many went to war for the U.S. or sent their children. Indeed, as far back as the Civil War, there were Irish and German units. In WWII, there were U.S. regiments of fighting men of Japanese ancestry, National cemeteries are filled with young immigrants who made the ultimate sacrifice for their adopted country. The same can be said for Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Look at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. and you’ll see many Hispanic surnames among the fallen.
Some say that assimilation never really occurs, as many of these people establish themselves in ethnic communities. They cite the Italian mafia as an example of failed assimilation. A new immigrant can certainly transition more easily into American culture if they start in a place where they might have family or friends. This doesn’t just happen with immigrants to America. U.S. expatriates often do the same thing in other countries. Yet, the vast majority of the descendants of these people go on to move out of ethnic neighborhoods with the passing of time. Ethnic neighborhoods, themselves, often change over time to reflect the country they’re in.
Others point out that many immigrants move back to their home country. This doesn’t surprise me; not everyone finds success in a new place, although the opportunities here are greater than any other place on Earth. The streets of America (or anywhere else) aren’t paved in gold, and many obstacles have to be overcome by anybody moving to a new country.
The difference between old immigrants and new ones, for most, is very little. They come for improved economic conditions, and some still come for freedoms not available back home. Many still start off in ethnic neighborhoods, where they can function while learning the language and establishing a financial future. Mexicans and Haitians, to take an example, are hard-working and willing to do jobs that many Americans won’t consider, just like Irish and Italian immigrants before them.
But, today, a few (hopefully, very few) immigrants, mostly from the Middle East, are here for a purpose that no old immigrant came for: To blow up the United States and cause casualties among its population. Even if rare, it just makes common sense that these immigrants must be given a higher level of scrutiny. Unfortunately, the U.S. still doesn’t have the mechanism or the manpower to effectively “vette” new arrivals to find out who might be here for nefarious reasons. Concerns about appearing racist or xenophobic discourage others in the community, ethnic or not, from coming forward about those who may have been radicalized. As a result of these issues, many places have become soft targets for any who wish to make casualties out of our citizens.
You may have an opinion about a wall on our Southern border, as did our two letter writers from 2006. Reasons for building a wall are mostly economic, although it’s hard to dispute that a criminal drug element exists. Eventually, a critical mass of illegal immigrants will have a detrimental effect on our economy. After all, there are only so many jobs and many Americans are already under-employed.
Having said this, we should acknowledge that we are a nation of immigrants, and most of what we have accomplished is a result of their labors. A method must be developed to identify those who wish to come into this country with good motives. It will take a better immigration apparatus, certainly, but that’s preferable to a massive armed deportation force to remove the millions (many with American-born citizen children) already here. Realistically, those here now are here to stay, regardless of the political rhetoric. That doesn’t mean the border shouldn’t be secured, however. In the interest of fairness to those who apply for entry through legal channels.
You may have gathered that this article’s main concern is the terror element. Even small numbers can cause significant damage and, perhaps, radicalize those born here or recently arrived. We must provide prospects for a future for immigrant communities in order to have their help in identifying terrorists . This becomes harder when borders are open, as unrestricted entry into the U.S. makes the competition for jobs more intense. If immigration is not controlled, the bitterness that will occur if America becomes a land of no opportunity will cause mayhem on our streets.
Many say that terror today is a Muslim problem. But if Muslim communities have access to good jobs, the people in those communities will want to keep the wheel of prosperity moving; the grand majority won’t tolerate those who want to disrupt that motion.
So don’t tear down the Statue of Liberty. There is still liberty and opportunity for those willing to work hard and pursue the American Dream. We still welcome, as poet Emma Lazarus said, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, but we must identify the few that are yearning to cause American deaths. If we can do this, new arrivals will find that Lady Liberty still lifts her lamp “beside the golden door”.
Joe Alton, MD