Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

"Give Me Your Fired, Your Boor(s) . . ."

                         Emma Lazarus

                        Emma Lazarus

Just when you thought inane political promises and boorish behavior couldn't do any greater harm to the principles that have long made this country great, along comes a guy like senior presidential adviser Stephen Miller, who makes one realize "You ain't seen nothing yet!" For Stephen Miller, in the words of journalist Walter Einenkel ". . . is a strange man. A strange, racist man. A strange, racist, gives-you-the-heebie-jeebies man."  Well, what can you expect from a guy whose first post-university (Duke) job was press secretary for that paragon of political pestiferousness, former Rep. Michelle Bachmann? MIller's latest foray into alt-right delirium was on full display at a press gathering this past Thursday where he not only endorsed his boss's' Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, which would cut legal immigration by 50%,  (from one to one-half million per year) but, to add insult to insanity, trashed poet Emma Lazarus's words at the base of the Statue of  Liberty . . . "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . ."

When a reporter read Lazarus' words to Miller, he dismissed them, saying, “The poem that you’re referring to was added later. It’s not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.” (n.b. This is true; Emma Lazarus wrote her poem - "The New Colossus" - as the centerpiece of a campaign to raise funds for Lady Liberty's base.  The base - featuring her poem - was completed in 1903, 16 years after her death. Nonetheless, despite this bit of historic accuracy, Miller - whose ancestors first glimpsed the statue when they entered the U.S. having fled the poverty, terror and anti-Semitism of Russia-Poland, showed a profound lack of compassion and understanding.) It should be noted that Miller has long supported drastic immigration reform, and stridently argued - like his boss - that immigrants come here not speaking English, unwilling to learn it, and with the conscious intent of receiving "freebies" while taking jobs away from "real Americans." 

The endlessly stated notion that non-English speaking immigrants don't want to learn to speak English and come to these shores solely for the purpose of receiving handouts is both a racist stereotype and largely untrue. The reality of the situation has lived in the Stone family home for years and years.  My wife Anna and her parents came to the United States from Argentina not quite 50 years ago. Under the far-right, anti-Semitic Movimiento Nacionalista Tacuara life had become far too dangerous for Jews; they fled Buenos Aires. Arriving in America, Anna and her parents learned English, worked very hard, and became model American citizens. As a result of her early experiences, Anna decided to become a teacher specializing in ESOL - English for Speakers of Other Languages. For many years, she has taught and mentored refugees, asylees and victims of human trafficking at Broward College in Ft. Lauderdale under the auspices of "Project RENEW," which is an acronym for Refugees Entering New Enterprises and Workforce.  It never ceases to amaze me how hungry her students are to learn and become a part of America.  In any given class, Anna will have refugees from a wide range of countries, cultures and educational experiences.  A Spanish-speaking surgeon from Cuba might be sitting next to a Creole-Haitian who does not even know how to spell his name in any language sitting next to an Arabic-speaking Iraqi who never made it beyond the fifth grade.  All are there seeking to learn.  

Most - if not all - of her students work at one, two or even three jobs while attending her classes.  Many have to take two or even three buses to get to class. Many have young to raise and to educate.  Anna knows her students' children and from time time will tutor them in math, history and what used to be known as "civics."  Many of her students would be killed if they returned to their native countries. Over the years, Anna has seen her students struggle, grow and dream American dreams.  Many are now American citizens and able to provide for their families.  They are a far cry from the "takers" and "unwilling learners" that anti-immigration hawks are endlessly talking about.  (By the way, I am delighted to report that on the most recent World Refugee Day, the Broward Area Task Force on Refugees presented Anna with the coveted "Friend  of Refugees" award.  Please don't tell her I did a bit of bragging . . . my wife is terminally humble.)

Getting back to the economic side of the issue, Miller, like his boss - as well as presidential advisers Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway along with a huge slice of Republican America - have long proclaimed (if not believed) that immigration reform should be based solely on economic necessity, not compassion. They endlessly state that only by making deep cuts in the number of people permitted to enter the country each year, can we hope to bring our economy back to "full employment" . . . to "bring jobs back to America."  And yet, when pressed for statistics to back up claims that immigration was costing Americans jobs, Miller cited several studies that have been debated by experts.  Simply stated, the economy does not work that way.  Cutting back on the number of people entering the United States will simply not mean more jobs - and higher paying ones at that - for "real" Americans.

A guest editorial writer in our local Sun Sentinel noted: Economists who study immigration overwhelmingly agree that immigration is an economic boon to our country. Indeed, nearly 1,500 Republican, Democratic and independent economists — including six Nobel laureates — recently released a letter stressing the "near universal agreement" among economists of all stripes on "the broad economic benefit that immigrants to this country bring." To that consensus, [Arkansas Senator] Cotton responds: "Only an intellectual could believe something so stupid."  Now there's one hell of an amazing construction - the part about "Only an intellectual could believe something so stupid."  The man who made this comment - Senator Cotton - is a graduate of both Harvard and Harvard Law!  Last time I checked, most Cantabs ("Harvardians") are pretty damned intellectual.  In any event, immigrants are actually good for the economy . . . and this is a provable historic fact.  Consider that:

  • In the United States, an immigrant or a child of an immigrant founded more than 40 percent of our Fortune 500 companies.

  • One in every 10 Americans who work at a private company in the United States works for an immigrant.

  • Despite accounting for just 14 percent of the population, immigrants make up nearly 30 percent of all new U.S. entrepreneurs, and their businesses employ nearly 6 million workers across the United States.

Immigration also drives innovation.

  • Half of all early-stage research in the United States is done in our universities, and immigrants were behind more than 75 percent of all patents at the top U.S. patent- producing universities several years ago.
  • Immigrants are also more likely to be of working age. Without immigration, the United States faces an aging workforce, with 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day and too few workers entering the job market to replace them.
  • Immigration isn't going to solve the aging crisis, but it certainly will help. Just half of native-born Americans are of prime working age (25 to 64 years old), but more than 72 percent of all immigrants fit into this category. In part because of this, immigrants are also huge net contributors to Social Security and Medicare.

If the RAISE Act had been the law of the land in generations past, few if any of those pushing for its passage would have been permitted into America.  Consider that:

  • Stephen Miller favors immigrants who speak English. But the 1910 census shows his own great-grandmother, Sarah Miller spoke only Yiddish.
  • According to immigration documents, '45's grandfather, Friedrich Trumpf arrived at Castle Gardens in 1883, speaking not a word of English and listed his occupation as "none."
  • Kellyanne Conway’s great-grandfather, Pasquale Lombardo, was from Naples, Italy.  According to the 1910 census, he spoke only Italian.
  • Stephen K. Bannon’s great-great-grandfather, Mattias Herr, was born in Bavaria in 1836 before moving to Maryland. It’s not clear whether he spoke English or knew a skilled trade.

Poet Emma Lazarus was also descended from immigrants: her Sephardi family first came to the colonies in the late 17th century.  She must be spinning in her grave . . .

198 days down; 1,259 to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone