The Symbolic Duality of Our Stance on Immigration

The polarization and the conflicting ideals in this America divided this country since its inception. From day one the emergence of democracy has created a firefight of different ideals that we have felt, as a nation, we should subscribe to. As times have changed, and with them our stand on issues, we have grown and matured with our age. This country was founded by ‘foreigners’ taking it by force and calling it our own. We invaded this land, tricked those who deservedly were here first and then stood as a beacon of freedom once we gained our independence. We are a nation of illegal immigrants that claimed ‘manifest destiny’ and therefore took what we felt entitled to. We then forged a country, once we felt we were one nation, after killing for and stealing the land we could take, and now we defend it against ‘all threats, foreign and domestic’. Oddly enough, this country of illegals who created laws that established our citizenship is now showing a lack of clarity of how we feel about our lands with conflicting messages; the Statue of Liberty stands on one border as a wall is constructed on the other.

It is not unlike other times in history where this country has been confused about its identity. The very phrase ‘all men created equal’ was written without certain men in mind, and of course women. Since our declaration of sovereignty we have molded the words and ideas we used as a credo to fit our own agenda. In the previous quote we redefined the word ‘all’ to fit our ideals. This country is notorious throughout history for molding words to fit its mission. We have never been a nation to really apologize for our mistakes in any real fashion, and we do the same now, fully contradicting the very thing that made this country great; immigration.

Other issues we can cite of civil rights throughout history. Women were great, as long as they stayed in the kitchen and out of the workplace. We were fine with them, on paper, until they wanted rights. Gays are the same way, we’re ok with them, in theory. No one is prejudice of course, we all are ‘tolerant’ of alternative lifestyles…until they want some rights. Now it’s hands across America to protect the sanctity of marriage; a sanctity with a divorce rate of more than 50% nationally. I guess we heterosexuals redefined the word ‘sanctity’ when the vows we took in front of God were seen as flexible. Or maybe it was the time we felt that, as a nation, blacks are fine to be free, but not in my schools. ‘Equal but separate,’ they were totally accepted, but not in white establishments or to receive white services. This kind of bigotry, racism, and sexism, is not dead today; these feelings and ideas have now been relegated to the closet right next to our feeling on foreigners with whom we are just fine, to a point.

In New York stands the Statue of Liberty. The great green bitch that stands as a testament to this countries awe-inspiring beginning and resolve to truly be a free nation. She sits on Ellis Island, the largest immigrant reception point, in its time, where people streamed in off boats to try to secure a free life in America. From the Irish to the Italians and everywhere in between they came and we accepted them without question. Our population became more immigrants than anything else; there were many ‘American born’ citizens after all. That statue was unveiled in 1886 and has stood ever since as a symbol of the strength, prosperity, and freedom that we represent. We hold her in the highest regard and like to think we hold to those same values that she represents…or do we?

While the statue of liberty stands as a symbol on one coast, the border fence between Mexico and America stands as another. Along the nearly 2,000-mile border we have been constructing a fence to keep Mexicans out. In 2008 it has been reported that about 345 miles of fence has been constructed. We have been actively pursuing the creation of a fence to keep people out of our country. This fence is supposed to keep out illegal immigrants as well as limit drug trafficking in and out of America. What it does is neither of those things with illegals pouring out of Mexico and drugs and drug-related crimes actually rising in Mexico and our border regions. It is ineffective at best and a symbol of our change in ideals and moral compass as we now want to protect our interests and industry from these people wanting a new life on our shores…hmmm, seems not too long ago we were welcoming those same people.

I love this country, I do. America is one-of-a-kind and despite her many flaws I would rather be a citizen nowhere else. I love the rights, freedoms, and beauty this country has to offer and appreciate that I don’t live in fear; I may live in a state of being nervous or angry sometimes, but that is a small price to pay for what it affords me. I did not immigrate to this country, I was born in San Diego…also known as northern Tijuana. I did not earn my status as an American by doing anything but taking my first breaths on the shores of this country. Some have not been so fortunate and they want the same opportunities that I have gotten by default. I know this is a very complicated issue, a fiery, debatable one where no one is ever going to be ‘right’, but I think that it is something we need to take a good look in the mirror to decide how we really feel.

My problem here is not the fence, it’s not the statue, it’s that they both stand simultaneously and we point at either one depending on the point we are trying to make. At Ellis Island there is an inscription that reads:

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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

You can read through this and see the gleaming beacons of hope, acceptance, and promise, that this statue represented in us as a country during that era. Now it seems that we have become jaded; this is ‘our land’ and we want to keep it that way. There is a sense of entitlement and protectiveness that we have developed since we first read, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free.” Now it seems we don’t want the masses. The wall along the Mexican border runs roughshod over everything this country, and to a lesser extent, this statue represented in a golden age of truly free immigration in this, a country of great opportunity.

Now I know that in essence I am talking about ‘illegal’ immigrants from Mexico. There is a process, a whole system they need to go through. Tests and oaths need to be taken, ones I know I could not pass, and they must wait patiently while the slow gears of the system churn out visas and green cards. Well, I remember a few history books that never mentioned that at Ellis Island, when many of your ancestors immigrated here for a better life. I don’t ever remember that talk of learning about Presidents and American history to get in. As I understand it, at Ellis Island you registered a name, sometimes it got changed, and you made your mark, and then you were in; Welcome to America…what happened to that? That unregulated passage after seriously treacherous journeys are why we are the country we are. That influx of immigrants and hard-working people just wanting a job and freedom are what literally built this country, brick by brick and beam by beam. The people that streamed in, that were welcomed to our shores are the reason we prospered, and they are the life’s blood of our history; without them this country would not be half of what it is had we closed our borders or deported those people as we do now.

The advent of this idea of security mixed with fear and closet racism has created a duality in this country where we say one thing and mean another. You’re welcome to come in, on our terms. These conflicting symbols speak to the complicated and partisan era we live in as we try desperately to live up to the ideals that founded this country while protecting what it is today. Without immigration this country simply would not exist. Without the free-for-all mentality we took with immigration in the past, we wouldn’t be the relative super-power we have become. We cannot hold our heads high while the Statue of Liberty stands right along with The Wall. Either we tear down the wall and look to her meaning and our history or we throw a tarp over the Statue of Liberty; we aren’t living up to what she represents if we stay the course in relation to citizenship in this country. But now we seem content with where we are, we want to close the book,  because there is this sense that they are stealing or ruining our country…Liberty’s inscription “With conquering limbs astride from land to land” represents these wide open arms bridging a gap that she fills; welcoming, safe arms to embrace “the homeless, tempest-tossed” upon her shores as they come. This is an image I no longer see in America. We no longer live up to her call for a land open to all to pursue happiness; we have failed her, and as a result we have failed ourselves. 

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