“Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I’ll piss on ’em
that’s what the Statue of Bigotry says” Lou Reed, Dirty Boulevard
Earlier this week, as most Mississippi families found themselves consumed by the excitement and anxiety of going back to school, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers went to poultry processing plants in central Mississippi and detained 680 workers whose documentation seemed questionable. Almost half were released within twenty-four hours. The rest remain in facilities while the law reckons with the balance between its own needs and basic human dignity.
We are all complicit in their misery. We like cheap protein, and we like it when we can buy blueberries for less than $2.50 a pint because they were picked by (probably undocumented) immigrants. The owners of food processing facilities and farms like maximizing profit. It’s the perfect marriage of capitalistic greed and need, and has been since the days of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.
I don’t pretend to understand the complexities of immigration law. However, I am certain that if the American Dream has any cultural currency on the international level, it must incorporate the notion that our nation allows all people to advance in the direction of their dreams–that the acceptance of certain core values is more important than birthplace, religion, or ethnicity. Unless we no longer want to be known as a nation of immigrants, we should welcome those who will embrace those core values, regardless of color or creed. Free those nascent Mississippians. Help them earn the right to be American citizens.
Some may claim that this is tantamount to opening our borders, or that it advocates lawlessness. That’s certainly the position of Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who’s currently engaged in a Twitter spat with Rep. Ilhan Omar. However, aside from being undocumented, it appears that the people detained in Mississippi lived within the realm of the law. They worked hard, went to church, paid taxes, and sent their kids to school so their lives would be better. What’s more American than that?
I’ll close with the last lines of “The New Colossus,” the Emma Lazarus poem that’s inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty:
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With 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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”