A new Colossus no more
Tonight, while reading an article in the Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer about the loss of used-car business due to North Carolina's new license requirements, I became very sad. And I think it's not so easy to be sad over the plight of used-car dealers (they rank up there with IRS auditors, defense attorneys, and pit bulls). Evidently since NC started requiring valid drivers' licenses to register cars (and the new required documents to obtain a drivers' license are an unexpired passport/visa or birth certificate, and social security number), Latinos in north Raleigh have stopped buying used cars. To the tune of 20-25% loss of business for the dealers.
But as sad as it sounds, the clincher for me came from the state senator who authored the bill, David Hoyle of Gaston County (which is near Charlotte).
Hoyle said he had no specific intent to target illegal immigrants. "But, you know, if you're illegal, I don't think we need to make it easier for them," Hoyle said. "If you're illegal, you're illegal."This is exactly the problem today with us. Why can't we "make it easier for them"? Seriously?! What are we afraid of? Why this protectionist attitude? I'll say why: it's xenophobia wrapped up with greed, which is a terrible monster that has consumed our society. The "party-line" excuse is that immigrants bring crime, disease, wage depression, and poverty, among many other ills. My brothers, and especially my readers who profess Jesus as Lord, please tell me, who else deserves our compassion?!
I turned to one of our great poets from the 19th century for inspiration, and was shocked at her diagnosis of what we have become. You are probably familiar with her writing; it adorns one of the most iconic symbols of the United States, namely the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. I will let you read it first. In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote:
The New Colossus
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!"
To where, o brothers, has that spirit vanished? "Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs astride from land to land." Who might that be referring to in 2008? Is there another country whose military is present and active on every continent?
"Mother of Exiles". Wow, sounds a lot like the biblical command to "welcome the alien in your midst." Today we resemble Ebeneezer Scrooge much more than a benevolent host!
"From her beacon-hand glows worldwide welcome." Alas, today we have 1000-mile fences, multi-year visa waits, and the behemoth Department of Homeland "Security".
"Her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame." Mild eyes? Can anyone who has ever entered the country from abroad describe that welcome as "mild"? And isn't it interesting that it isn't her strength that controls her economic might, but her demeanor? Humble service is not a new idea!
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp." Quick quiz: what is the first contemporary country that comes to mind when you think of "arrogance on the world stage"? (Actually, if you are American, here's another quick-quiz: can you name 4 countries in Africa? 3 in South America? But perhaps that's ignorance, not arrogance, an indictment of geography not pomp...)
And, finally, the full-on powerful gush of love, of pity, of hospitality, and of strength: "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!" You and I both know that this attitude, if it ever existed, has long since abated in the USA. It might as well be crossed-out and re-written to say: "We have enough problems without your tired, poverty-ridden comunas dirtying up our clean air and soiling our waters. Deal yourself with your homeless, your disaster-afflicted, for you obviously made them so. For I have my spotlight and shotgun and will leave no desert boulder unturned in your pursuit. Leave us alone!"
"Lord, your heart is especially keen for the sick, the troubled, the wounded, the weak. You even went so far as to declare them blessed and rebuke those who suggested that you came to Jerusalem to claim your kingship. Please change our hearts, away from selfishness and toward generosity. Remind us in powerful ways that all we have is already yours. Give us opportunities to love and welcome the alien in our midst. Thanks for loving us."