Friday, August 04, 2017

A Poem Does Not A Law Make

Each and every day without fail brings us a new level of silliness in public discourse. It is easy to point out the intemperate and often petulant thin-skinned behavior of President Trump, after all he is the President. What is often less noticed is the behavior of the media which is acting collectively like a middle school girl at a dance that no one asks onto the dance floor, so instead they stand in the corner glowering at everyone else. The media is in open rebellion, no longer even feigning to ask questions and instead taking every opportunity to virtue signal and grandstand.

The latest blow-up had to do with immigration policy and the, quite sensible in my opinion, reforms proposed by President Trump that are totally in keeping with his pledge from the campaign. Instagram stallion Jim Acosta from CNN used his media credentials in the White House press corp to attack Stephen Miller. That was a mistake. Here is the money quote:
“What you’re proposing, or what the president’s proposing here, does not sound like it’s in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration,” Acosta claimed. “The Statue of Liberty says, ‘give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,’ it doesn’t say anything about speaking English or being able to be a computer programmer. Aren’t you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you’re telling them, you have to speak English when they get here?”
Stephen Miller then spent a few minutes totally eviscerating Acosta and making him look like not just a self-important tool but an ignorant self-important tool

Acosta is referring to the poem by Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus", found at the Statue of Liberty. It is notable that the actual statue was dedicated in 1886 and the poem by Lazarus was written in 1883 to serve as a fundraiser for the pedestal while the plaque now found at the statue was added in 1903. Simply knowing these historic, easily verifiable facts, is apparently racist.

While the poem is 14 lines long, most people including me are only familiar with part of the final five, in bold below:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,With conquering limbs astride from land to land;Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall standA mighty woman with a torch, whose flameIs the imprisoned lightning, and her nameMOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-handGlows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes commandThe air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries sheWith 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!"
Noble sentiment indeed. However it is not the law, not in any sense. It is a poem written as a fundraiser that appears on a plaque near a monument where immigrants, coming here legally, used to sail past. For comparison purposes, if I should jot down a little poem of my own on the subject of waterfront devlopment, and even put it on a bronze plaque, and then convinced the city fathers of Fort Wayne to place said poem on the monument to city namesake General "Mad" Anthony Wayne (also the namesake of my high school) which is found in downtown Fort Wayne, that would not make my thoughts on waterfront development legally binding or even especially pertinent to discussions of what steps the city of Fort Wayne should take in developing (or not) the city's waterfront. The Federal government sets immigration policy and there is a process in place to set that policy. 

The author of The New Colossus, Emma Lazarus, was apparently also a Zionist well ahead of her time it would appear. Just a fun fact.

Who exactly were the immigrants coming to America during this time from the writing of this poem to the placement of the plaque at the Statue of Liberty? We don't have to guess. The Census Bureau provides a ton of stats in a chart "Region of Birth of the Foreign-Born Population". The chart looks at foreign born Americans and where they are from. Here is the time period 1880-1910:

Total Europe Asia Africa Oceania Latin

1910 13,506,272 11,810,115 191,484 3,992 11,450 279,514 1,209,717
1900 10,330,534 8,881,548 120,248 2,538 8,820 137,458 1,179,922
1890 9,243,535 8,030,347 113,383 2,207 9,353 107,307 980,938
1880 6,675,875 5,751,823 107,630 2,204 6,859 90,073 717,286

39,756,216 34,473,833 532,745 10,941 36,482 614,352 4,087,863

As you can see, it is glaringly obvious where foreign born citizens were coming from, i.e. Europe and Canada. Here is the same info expressed as a percentage:

Total Europe Asia Africa Oceania Latin
87.4 1.4 - 0.1 2.1 9
86 1.2 - 0.1 1.3 11.4

86.9 1.2 - 0.1 1.2 10.6
86.2 1.6 - 0.1 1.3 10.7

So yes, a lot of Americans were foreign born but they were European, i.e. White. I am not sure how this accounts for slaves but then again slaves weren't immigrants. Not exactly the picture of a multi-racial melting pot, is it? 

Until 1960, around 85% of foreign born Americans were from Europe or North America. The percentage has been dropping precipitously ever since to 1990 where Asian born foreigners (26.3%) outnumbered European born foreigners (22.9%). What happened? The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 happened. This act, while promised to not really have a significant change, like virtually all acts of government had enormous unintended consequences (or were they????)

Prior to 1965, the demographics of immigration stood as mostly Europeans; 68 percent of legal immigrants in the 1950s came from Europe and Canada. However, in the years 1971–1991, immigrants from Hispanic and Latin American countries made 47.9 percent of immigrants (with Mexico accounting for 23.7 percent) and immigrants from Asia 35.2 percent.

You can debate the merit of this shift, I would point out that diversity and multi-culturalism are basically meaningless phrases. A nation that is more diverse is not automatically better than one that is less diverse. That is a conversation for another day. My point is that the immigration model Jim Acosta and so many others seem to pine for, essentially "anyone who wants to come here can do so" is not at all what was in place when the Statue of Liberty went up and when Emma Lazarus penned her fund-raising sonnet. Trying to play gotcha by an appeal to The New Colossus is ignorant and risible and Jim got his head handed to him live on TV and he deserved it.

The U.S. needs a sensible, skills based immigration policy that has the welfare of the United States and her citizens as the first and only priority. Let's have a discussion about that but let's not do it via an argumentative grandstanding "reporter" using a historically untenable argument about a contemporary issue.

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