This past Sunday, University of Southern California professor Roberto Suro announced in a Washington Post editorial that Emma Lazarus’ “Give me your tired, your poor…” poem should be permanently removed from the Statue of Liberty:
I’d like to suggest a little surgery that will make the symbol more appropriate today: Let’s get rid of The Poem…Inscribed on a small brass plaque mounted inside the statue’s stone base, the poem is an appendix, added belatedly, and it can safely be removed, shrouded or at least marked with a big asterisk.
According to Suro, the Statue of Liberty was meant to be a symbol of freedom and liberty, not immigration. Suro also points out that most immigrants come to the U.S. for economic reasons that he deems totally unrelated to the political values that Lazarus’ poem conveys. Suro thinks most immigrants are “adventurous” and “ambitious,” not “tired and poor.”
Yet Suro doesn’t account for the fact that, for many immigrants, shear economic destitution is often what drives ambition and any sense of adventure. He also doesn’t consider the notion that economic mobility (or the lack thereof) is often tied hand-in-hand with economic justice and various degrees of political despotism. Maybe immigrants don’t come as “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” but chances are they’d have an easier time feeding their families in their home countries if government corruption and dysfunction didn’t lock them into rigid class systems that even emerging democracies are still struggling to shake off.
Now, Suro’s notion that “we live in a different era of immigration” and that the “schmaltzy sonnet offers a dangerously distorted picture” is being used by others to argue against immigration altogether. A Fox News broadcast that aired this past holiday weekend used an interview with Suro as a launching pad for Mark Krikorian’s vehemently anti-immigrant views:
KRIKORIAN: The problem really isn’t that immigrants are coming here to rip us off. This isn’t like a welfare queen issue. The problem here is that immigrants are a mismatch for a modern society like ours.
Krikorian also followed-up his interview with an article, “Bad Poetry Makes for Bad Policy,” in which he referenced Suro’s remarks to convince his readers that the U.S. has “outgrown” immigration. Krikorian authored the book, entitled The New Case Against Immigration, Both Legal and Illegal, which features the Statue of Liberty on the cover with her hand blocking new waves of immigration. Most economic data suggests that Krikorian is wrong.