Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Lift My Lamp

Not everybody agreed with the idea of the Emma Lazarus inscription on the Statue of Liberty at the time, including cartoonist Victor Gillam in March 1890 (h/t this blog post by Victoria Emily Jones). 

The All-New New Colossus
by Kenneth Cuccinelli

.................... Give me your tired, your poor,
At least if they can stand on their own feet,
But don't send us those homeless any more
Or people who don't have enough to eat.
Ship them back to their shitholes. Lock the door.

Via Splinter News, a story about Ken Cuccinelli's views on immigrants when he was Virginia attorney general (you'll remember him as the one who redesigned the state seal to conceal the left boob of the goddess Virtus, to make the state safe for Christians) that originally appeared in the lamented DCist: in a call to a conservative radio show in January 2012, he was complaining (falsely) about the District of Columbia catching rats and trucking them to Virginia instead of killing them and claiming (falsely) that the rules prevented them from "breaking up the families" of rats (it's true for some animal species, but rats and mice aren't among them):
Host: Send ’em over to Virginia, that’s right.
Cuccinelli: Guess why I care about that sort of thing?
Other host: I bet.
Cuccinelli: Anyway, it is worse than our immigration policy — you can’t break up families. Or raccoons or all the rest and you can’t even kill them. Unbelievable.
He was a family divider before it went mainstream. Now, of course, he's acting director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and therefore the public voice on immigration matters of president Stephen Miller, which was why he was on NPR this morning explaining that the US still welcomes "your tired, your poor", but only those who can "stand on their own two feet", reminding us that the statue was erected around the same time as the institution of the Public Charge rule of the 1882 Immigration Act, which was the first step in setting up the  bureaucracy for getting rid of immigrants we have now (or the second, following the Chinese Exclusion Act of the same year):
Upon inquiry of the vessels transporting immigrants, immigration officials were given the authority to expel certain immigrants based on criteria laid out within the Act. The legislation dictated that "If on such examination there shall be found among such passengers any convictlunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of him or herself without becoming a public charge, they shall report the same in writing to the collector of such port, and such person shall not be permitted to land." Furthermore, if a criminal was found to be on board, it was the fiscal responsibility of the ship that brought the immigrant there to take them back out of the United States. The criminal provision of the act did not include immigrants who were "convicted of political offenses, reflecting the traditional American belief that the United States is a haven for those persecuted by foreign tyrants."
Not that there were any food stamps or Medicaid in 1882 to withhold. The US government wasn't really going to save a dime with the Public Charge rule, and that wasn't really its purpose; the purpose was to keep the community timid and on edge with the threat of deportation. The same is more or less true of the new rule, which is just to take points off on your green card application if you've ever used any of the programs (which is a lot less likely than if you're a natural-born American, by the way, but you knew that). It's really aimed at the American children of immigrants with irregular status, just like the Mississippi roundups last week, and it's meant to frighten them.

What Cuccinelli failed to understand is that the Lazarus poem and its attachment to the statue weren't in synch with the Public Charge rule, products of one single society, but in passionate opposition to it (Lazarus herself was Jewish and of course Jews arriving from Eastern Europe were among the main targets of the new restrictive approaches to immigration, along with the swarthy-skinned southern Italians from whom Cuccinelli is presumably descended).

Because this debate has been going on for a while, with pretty much the same racist language ("garbage" in 1890 becomes "infestation" in 2019) on the exclusionary side, and the same moral content. Cuccinelli's not entitled to Statue of Liberty sentiment; he's its enemy.

From Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 1882, via Wikipedia. A lot of labor organizations backed the Chinese Exclusion Act, by the way, seduced by the conventional wisdom into thinking it was immigrants rather than abusive bosses who were responsible for their working conditions, also then as now—Wikipedia notes that the IWW opposed it, though, so all honor to them.
Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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