Category Archives: Immigration legislation

Changing Liberty

In 1886 France sent us as a gift, a statue by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, to celebrate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. It was sent in pieces and assembled to sit in New York Harbor. At the time it sat astride New York City and Brooklyn which were only consolidated in 1883. At the time that this gift was given, this gift that came to symbolize the world’s regard for our great political “experiment” and for the ideal it represented, the population of American was just over 76 million. We were a huge and sprawling nation with seemingly endless amounts of space and opportunity.

In that same year a contest was held to pick a poem to dedicate the statue of Liberty. Wikipedia tells me that “the title of the poem and the first two lines refer to the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The poem talks about the millions of immigrants who came to the United States (many of them through Ellis Island at the port of New York.”

“The “air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame” refers to New York City and Brooklyn, not yet consolidated into one unit in 1883.”

This poem, The New Colossus, although written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, was not engraved on “Lady” Liberty until 1903.

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Also from Wikipedia we learn that:

John T. Cunningham wrote that “The Statue of Liberty was not conceived and sculpted as a symbol of immigration, but it quickly became so as immigrant ships passed under the statue. However, it was Lazarus’s poem that permanently stamped on Miss Liberty the role of unofficial greeter of incoming immigrants”.[6]

Paul Auster wrote that “Bartholdi’s gigantic effigy was originally intended as a monument to the principles of international republicanism, but ‘The New Colossus’ reinvented the statue’s purpose, turning Liberty into a welcoming mother, a symbol of hope to the outcasts and downtrodden of the world”.[7]


Today we live in an America bursting with people from shore to shore. Our population has quadrupled to almost 309 million people and we are involved in trying to pass new immigration laws that will deal with “illegal” immigrants. Listening to what our Republican representatives in Congress have to say about illegal immigrants makes it clear that, although I am sure all of these Americans can trace their roots to other nations, sympathy for recent immigrants who broke our laws is in short supply. These lawmakers do not see current immigration policy as an exercise in humanism. They also plan to be sure that future immigrants do not resemble previous immigrants. So I rewrote the Liberty poem and here is my new not-a-sonnet with the revised plaque quotation for our Statue of Liberty, as per some of our Republican legislators:

For one hundred years the world expected
Our democracy to hit a shoal
The ship of state exploding on the rocks
Of man’s rapacious nature; or as Freedom’s Fool.

In spite of disbelief the people came
To populate the shores of this, their ideal land.
The world’s dreamers, daily drawn by Liberty’s permission.
They peopled tenements while struggling for provisions,
And founded families, and built a prosperous nation.

Today we find that people wandered in without permission
And made themselves at home with secrets hidden
They broke the laws of their adopted nation
To find success, and hope for offspring’s freedom.
Now some think that Liberty’s words must change.
They want to rewrite that  burnished antique plaque
And slam the open doors that always offered hope.

 “Give us the sons and daughters of your wealthiest families
Give us only your gifted, your smartest, your most industrious
And keep your poor, your wretched refuse dying to be free.”
(As if our nation never profited from all that hard-scrabble ambition.)

Perhaps poetry is not my strength, but I think this still gets my point across. We need to pass the Immigration Law that was drafted by the bipartisan Committee of Eight. Every day we are not clear about where America stands on immigration we make it possible that more people will become disenchanted and take their talents elsewhere, or lose faith in the American dream and turn against us, or just continue to arrive illegally to take their chances that our government will not be able to agree on a policy. If the gridlock in our Congress is not too great to accomplish anything, then let us at least accomplish this.