Friday, July 25, 2014

America's Attitude Change Worrying Many

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, July 25, 2014

By Bill Gouveia

            “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.”

            Those oft-quoted words are from a sonnet called The New Colossus written by Emma Lazarus in 1883.  In 1903 they were engraved on a plaque and placed near the base of the Statue of liberty, where they have helped celebrate both freedom and immigrants for well over a century.

            But much like the late Emma, those words have been forgotten and ignored by many in America.  The metaphorical lamp Lady Liberty lifts so high might as well be a giant stop light, given what many in our great country are saying and urging these days.

            Immigration reform is a hot topic.  Unfortunately, the country is so polarized on the issue that all we can really accomplish is to fight with ourselves.  As we come out of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, we seem to have become a nation more concerned with denying others success and opportunity than actually achieving those things ourselves.

            In the last few years there has been a tremendous surge in children illegally entering the country from Central American nations where gang violence has escalated to unprecedented levels.  Parents are sending their young kids off on their own to a place many have only read about, most with nowhere to go and no family to support them when they arrive.

            Why are they doing it?  Because they want their children to live.  Because the children’s chances of surviving in their home country are slim.  Because they are out of options.  And because they love them.

            To be sure, there are some bad parents and children involved in this.  Some kids who cross the border illegally are gang members.  Some are running drugs.  Some are fleeing criminal prosecution in their own land. 

            But most of them are just children running for their lives.  They are crossing the border illegally and surrendering themselves to the first uniformed person they see.  They are running towards the place history books tell them is the beacon of freedom, a place different from any other country in the world.

            And many here want them sent back to the hell they escaped.  Despite the fact our own law, passed by the administration of George W. Bush, says we cannot legally deport them for two years.  Many believe we should not have to bear the cost of detaining them and determining if they have legal grounds for requesting asylum. 

            Just ship them back, we are told.  If they die, they die.  Do you know the problems they are causing us?  We have to house them.  We have to feed them.  We have to clothe them.  And what do we get in return?

            Do you know some of them have lice?  Why should we possibly get lice just because some foreign kids want to live and be free, or have a future?  Surely our right to avoid lice is more important than their lives?

            It’s pretty plain they are all just coming here for the food stamps and those luxurious abandoned military bases.  They want to go on welfare, get in-state tuition, and collect unemployment for the rest of their lives.  They’re all the same, you know.

            None of them will ever amount to anything, or become productive members of our society.  They will never start businesses and employ people, or serve in our military, or become hard-working taxpayers.  They steal all those low-level jobs we Americans complain about but won’t actually work ourselves.  Why should we allow them to stay?

            In all seriousness, we cannot continue to accept thousands of children streaming illegally across our borders.  We must address not only the problem of border security, but the reasons these kids are coming here in the first place.  We have to help make them safe in their own land, because we are America and that is what we do.

            Or at least, it’s what we used to do.  You know, back when that lady with the torch was seen as lighting the way instead of burning the bridges.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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