June 7, 2019


The Statue of Liberty stands for American values

You might have seen the news about the dedication on May16 of the new Statue of Liberty Museum on Liberty Island in New York. It had been under construction for two years. It celebrates the American ideals that the Statue of Liberty stood for when it was given to our country by France in 1886.

President Donald J. Trump was expected to attend the dedication, and Secret Service officials were all over the island to make security arrangements. But he canceled that appearance in order to present his own immigration plan on the same day, a plan much different from what the statue celebrates.

The president’s plan is merit-based immigrant reform, he said. It would put highly-skilled people on a fast track while making entry into our country more difficult for those who do not speak English and are not highly educated.

At the base of the Statue of Liberty is Emma Lazarus’ famous poem that begins, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. … Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

President Trump wouldn’t go to the dedication of the new museum because he doesn’t agree with the sentiments of that poem. Neither, unfortunately, do many other Americans.

We applaud President Trump for some of the pro-life measures he has taken during his presidency. But why can’t he see that rescuing refugees whose lives are endangered is also a pro-life issue?

How many of our ancestors had the education or the skills that President Trump wants immigrants to have? The Irish who escaped Ireland’s potato famine in the mid-1800s were at the bottom of our society and faced signs of “Irish need not apply” when they were looking for work.

The Italians, French and Polish could not speak English. But they all saw the United States as a haven, as the Latinos coming from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala do today. They and their descendants made our country what it is today.

Two of the most important things Christians are obliged to do is to love God and love our neighbor. There are more than a hundred verses in the Bible that command us to welcome the stranger and to love the alien as ourselves. But perhaps the strongest is what Jesus said: that those who do not welcome the stranger “will go off to eternal punishment” (Mt 25:46).

Of course, we would like to encourage highly educated men and women to migrate to the United States because of the contributions they might make to our society. But we must also welcome immigrants with less education and skills.

Those families that are traveling thousands of miles to reach the United States have to be desperate to do that. Some have justified fear of gang violence in the three countries mentioned above. But even those who are only fleeing poverty are doing so for the same reasons that our ancestors did: safety, security and opportunity.

Many of these families have agricultural backgrounds, and agricultural companies in this country are complaining that they cannot find enough workers to harvest crops. The Latinos are also often skilled in construction work or landscaping, and they are known to be hard workers. They do work that American citizens increasingly refuse to do.

Surely the screening process these people have to go through can keep out the criminal element that President Trump speaks about. What we need are more immigrant judges to clear up the backlog of hearings.

But perhaps above all, we must get to the roots of the present immigration problem. That means helping those Central American countries improve their economies and law enforcement so that their citizens will no longer consider it necessary to escape from their homelands. This means making the substantial investments that Vice President Mike Pence promised during one of his visits to Central America (only to be contradicted by President Trump).

We believe that the Statue of Liberty still stands for American values. We must continue to welcome the stranger and care for the alien.

—John F. Fink

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