Statue Of Liberty Concerned Slavery, Not Immigration
By Kevin Lynn
Given the numerous attempts to pack immigration provisions into current spending bills, there’s probably no better time to talk about the real meaning of the Statue of Liberty.
The Statue of Liberty has long been a beacon for immigrants, and not just any immigrants, but the poorest and most destitute around the globe. This symbolism of taking in the world’s impoverished is embodied in a verse from Emma Lazarus’ poem, The New Colossus, which proclaims as though speaking through the statue itself, “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!“
These often recited and famous words are a permanent fixture associated with the Statue of Liberty. After all, aren’t they inscribed on a bronze plaque below her feet? Yet, the bronze plaque wasn’t originally part of the statue; it was added 17 years after the dedication. And, what’s more, the poem’s words and ideas obscure the statue’s true meaning.
As Roy Beck author of Back of the Hiring Line points out, the statue was meant to “celebrate the fact that the U.S. had finally abolished slavery and accorded full liberty, at least in principle, to all its inhabitants.” What’s still ignored to this day, are the broken shackles on her feet, which signify the newfound liberty for formerly enslaved Black Americans.
The Statue of Liberty was not intended as a symbol for those who have yet to come, but a tribute to the foundational group of people who were already here. The intent was “to portray a form of government that could be copied by people in their own countries, not by leaving their countries.” Appropriately, she was named Liberty Enlightening the World, not Liberty Receiving Enthusiastically the World!
Immigration proponents’ understanding of the true meaning of the statute is entirely backward. They don’t talk about its history or intent as it goes against the heart of the open border advocates’ narrative. Much like the passage from “The New Colossus,” they focus on the poor coming from overseas and across our borders rather than the poor at home. The fact that there have been 1.6 million migrant encounters last fiscal year, and 1.6 million already, year to date is music to their ears.
Yet, more than three million immigrants a year, both legal and illegal, arriving in the U.S. creates colossal problems for everyone, and especially the poor. According to the Census Bureau, in 2020, the number of people officially in poverty was 37.2 million, and the depth of poverty has gotten worse. Deep poverty has increased to 45.6%.
And why do the poor continue to stay poor? One big reason is the oversupply of low-skilled immigrant workers, who depress wages of the native-born. Case in point, the bottom 20% of Americans’ income has remained largely the same ”and has only risen from around $15,000 to $16,100 between 1966 and 2014”. As a result, these lower-income households saw a twenty percent decrease between 1970 and 2020 in their income share compared to the middle and upper class.
Not surprisingly, the descendants of American slaves have been hit especially hard by the endless waves of migration. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that since 1970, actual earnings for the median black man have fallen from $30,800 to $21,000 in 2014, a 32 percent decline.
Declining wages have slowed people’s ability to move up financially in their lifetimes. This increasing economic inequality and the inability to get ahead is due, again, in large part to mass immigration.
Just look at the contrast between the upward trajectory of children born before the 1965 Immigration Act and afterwards. It’s startling! Whereas”92% of children born in 1940 earned higher incomes at the age of 30 than did their parents, this share dropped to 50% for children born in 1980“.
We’ve gone from a country where almost everyone could financially exceed their parents’ income to the odds of achieving that now are worse than flipping a coin. Of the children born into the bottom fifth of the economic ladder, 43% will continue to be stuck there, and for Americans born at the bottom, it’s clear the ability to move up is particularly low.
With the recent influx of immigrants, Democrat mayors in blue states finally must confront the consequences of their policies. New York City’s mayor Eric Adams recently let out a few known truths on immigration, conceding the illegal immigrant influx was a “real burden” and that for New Yorkers, “our schools are going to be impacted, our health care system is going to be impacted, our infrastructure is going to be impacted.” He went so far as to say, “if there was ever an all-hands-on-deck moment, this is it.” Hopefully, Mayor Adams will realize the costs of immigration before it sinks his ship.
In Washington D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser told Face the Nation that newly arrived asylum seekers were filling up homeless shelters. These bussed migrants are straining the city’s social safety net, and “the local taxpayers are not picking up the tab and should not pick up the tab.” She believes it’s the federal government’s responsibility and they should pull out their checkbook. She’s right on that. By the same token, it shouldn’t be the responsibility of the U.S. to generously accommodate illegal aliens, either.
The stone-faced Statue of Liberty and Americans struggling here share an uncomfortable truth: both the meaning of the statue and American livelihoods have been displaced. Prioritizing the needs of the impoverished from abroad over the plight of America’s most vulnerable ignores the fact that day after day the poor become more financially broke and economically immobile.
Reducing immigration will benefit those Americans struggling to make ends meet, as economic prosperity is very much possible. Between 1940-1980 when there was low immigration, “the real incomes of white males expanded two-and one-half fold” while “real incomes expanded four-fold” for Black men. By 1980, the Black middle class grew from 22 percent of African Americans to 71 percent.”
The U.S. has a duty and an obligation to pick up the tab for its citizens, not new arrivals from halfway around the world. It’s time we support our poor, our homeless, and our huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Only then can the U.S. live up to the real meaning of the Statue of Liberty.
Kevin Lynn is the Executive Director for Progressives for Immigration Reform. Lynn writes about the unintended consequences of unbridled immigration and their impacts on the environment, as well as federal, state and local politics. A former Army intelligence officer and successful organizer of influential groups in Arizona, California and Texas, he is based in Pennsylvania. Contact him at klynn@ firdc.org.