One More Note on Immigration: “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor?”

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I managed to write a massive post about the new immigration bill’s point system for awarding visas yesterday while completely missing the point.

As I explained, the new point system gives a visa applicant credit for being highly-educated, English-proficient, and employable in medicine, science, and engineering. It dings people who are poor, unskilled, and struggling with English. The point I missed is this:

Whatever happened to “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”?

For centuries, hasn’t the American dream been a poor man’s dream? An immigrant with nothing except an undying work ethic has always been able to come to America to make something of him or herself. That’s the story, anyway — the one as a child I was taught to take pride in during civics classes, at the Ellis Island museum, and at my father’s knee. I was told that every generation of immigrants coming to this country, dating back to when it was European immigrants like the Irish and the Italians, have come with nothing. In fact they’ve come precisely because they had nothing — this is the country where you go from nothing to something.

Not anymore. We have prerequisites now. We’ll have to change the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. I propose, “Give me your educated, your credentialed, your cubicle jockeys yearning to cash checks, the fluent doctors abandoning your teeming shores. Send these, the smart, the trained, to me: I lift my lamp beside the door of privilege.”

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