Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses . . . ".

[Back to Sonya, Johan, and their Dutch friends from Texas.]

"I thought all the Dutch immigrants settled in western Michigan and Iowa," I said. ". . . And then, of course, the central valley in California."

"Those are the rich Dutch," said our companions. "We're the poor Dutch. We settled in Texas."

[Well, they're not so poor anymore. I forget how many cows they said they milk every day or how many acres they own. Sonya commented about their house that has 12 external doors. --It was sadly neglected when they bought it, but/and/so they had to purchase 12 external door handles to replace those that were falling off. . . .]

I asked, as I often do, how each couple first met. And, as is usual, they told their stories from first meeting until they got married.

For Sonya and Johan, their story included a close call with the INS [U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service, now U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Service] who were trying to deport the illegal Dutch immigrants.

"Yes," Johan admitted, "I was an illegal."

"We were all illegals," affirmed his friend, sitting to my left.

Somehow it had never occurred to me that these fine, upstanding, God-fearing, America-loving, young Dutch immigrants could have been illegals.

Sarita's parents weren't illegals. My parents and grandparents and great-grandparents weren't illegals. They wouldn't have imagined coming in illegally.

But, yet, here they were: self-acknowledged former illegals, one of them, at least, a full U.S. citizen, now.

Why? Why illegals?

I wonder what the United States would be like today if its immigration policies were more the way they were prior to the Immigration Act of 1917 or, even, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882?

What happened to the open door policy expressed so evocatively on the base of the Statue of Liberty which, itself, was erected and dedicated in 1886:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land,
Here at our sea-washed, sunset-gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome, her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin-cities frame.
"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-tost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
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