Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor But …

By: Carolyn Hileman

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, But only if they enter properly

This was a comment entered on my blog recently, at the time I did not have the time to answer it properly, I am doing so now. America has always been a beacon of freedom and prosperity across the world and there are reasons that it remains so today. Ellis Island, Ellis Island is a symbol of America’s immigrant heritage. From 1892 to 1954, this immigrant depot processed the greatest tide of incoming humanity in the nation’s history. Nearly twelve million landed here in their search of freedom of speech and religion, and for economic opportunity. While most immigrants entered the United States through New York Harbor (the most popular destination of steamship companies), others sailed into many ports such as Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Francisco and Savannah, Miami, and New Orleans. The great steamship companies like White Star, Red Star, Cunard and Hamburg-America played a significant role in the history of Ellis Island and immigration in general. First and second class passengers who arrived in New York Harbor were not required to undergo the inspection process at Ellis Island. Instead, these passengers underwent a cursory inspection aboard ship; the theory being that if a person could afford to purchase a first or second class ticket, they were less likely to become a public charge in America due to medical or legal reasons. The Federal government felt that these more affluent passengers would not end up in institutions, hospitals or become a burden to the state. However, first and second class passengers were sent to Ellis Island for further inspection if they were sick or had legal problems.

This scenario was far different for “steerage” or third class passengers. These immigrants traveled in crowded and often unsanitary conditions near the bottom of steamships with few amenities, often spending up to two weeks seasick in their bunks during rough Atlantic Ocean crossings. Upon arrival in New York City, ships would dock at the Hudson or East River piers. First and second class passengers would disembark, pass through Customs at the piers and were free to enter the United States. The steerage and third class passengers were transported from the pier by ferry or barge to Ellis Island where everyone would undergo a medical and legal inspection. If the immigrant’s papers were in order and they were in reasonably good health, the Ellis Island inspection process would last approximately three to five hours. The inspections took place in the Registry Room (or Great Hall), where doctors would briefly scan every immigrant for obvious physical ailments. Doctors at Ellis Island soon became very adept at conducting these “six second physicals.” By 1916, it was said that a doctor could identify numerous medical conditions (ranging from anemia to goiters to varicose veins) just by glancing at an immigrant. The ship’s manifest or passenger list (filled out at the port of embarkation) contained the immigrant’s name and his/her answers to numerous questions. This document was used by immigration inspectors at Ellis Island to cross examine the immigrant during the legal (or primary) inspection. The two agencies responsible for processing immigrants at Ellis Island were the United States Public Health Service and the Bureau of Immigration (later known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service – INS). On March 1, 2003, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was re-structured and included into 3 separate bureaus as part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Despite the island’s reputation as an “Island of Tears”, the vast majority of immigrants were treated courteously and respectfully, and were free to begin their new lives in America after only a few short hours on Ellis Island. Only two percent of the arriving immigrants were excluded from entry. The two main reasons why an immigrant would be excluded were if a doctor diagnosed that the immigrant had a contagious disease that would endanger the public health or if a legal inspector thought the immigrant was likely to become a public charge or an illegal contract laborer. So as you can see the answer to that question would have been yes as late as 1954, this was not done to shame or hurt the immigrants on the contrary it was done to protect the beacon that they had sailed to and assure that the beacon continued to shine brightly for the world. These great and wonderful words 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! Are from a poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus was engraved on a bronze plaque in 1903, after Lazarus’ death, and 20 years after it was written. The plaque is located on a wall of the museum, which is in the base of the statue. (It has never been engraved on the monument itself, despite such depictions in editorial cartoons[10]). Liberty holds a torch in her right hand and a tablet in her left. The tablet shows the inscription JULY IV MDCCLXXVI—July 4, 1776, the date of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. One of her feet stands on chains, symbolizing the acquired freedom. The USIA states that the seven spikes in the crown represent the seven seas and seven continents.[4]

The former immigrants and the current immigrants who are here legally have every right to assume that the country that they came to will be protected from those who would do her harm. By that we do not mean just those who would blow up buildings, we mean those who would use her good nature against her by coming here illegally and perpetrating illegal deeds while upon her great shores. They have a reasonable expectation that the United States of America will identify and deport those who could possibly carry diseases, some of which could potentially wipe out the great country they have come to love as their own. They have a reasonable expectation that the jobs and wages will be protected by not allowing illegal contract labor to force the wages down and work places to close. As far back as 1954 they knew that these issues were important, perhaps they did not know about the potential of bigger voting blocks, maybe it never occurred to them that you could cheat your fellow man and make a few extra bucks if you just hired under the table, I suspect that not to be the case since Ellis Island prevented those people form staying here. In this great immigrant debate of the century we seem to forget that at one time America had rules and really went by them. People keep quoting the poem found at the Statue of Liberty, like it means we should allow anyone and everyone in our country. However, America has never just held her arms wide open and accepted just anyone until now.

They say that America is a country of immigrants and that is apparently not true because there had to be Americans who were processing the immigrants and making the laws that they were following, so apparently not all of America were immigrants. It would appear there are a lot of misconceptions of what the Statue of Liberty means; it is not the Statue beckoning people of all races, creeds, and colors to come to its shores. It is a symbol of what our for fathers accomplished, it is a symbol of the freedom they fought for and passed on to our generation, it was in fact a gift from France honoring the fact that we had won our freedom. Not one single immigrant waited and longed to come to our shores just to see her, they came here to find a better life, to escape torture, to find work, to be a part of that great thing we call freedom. They put everything they owned into living that great dream called America; they brought what they could from their old lives and then settled down to the business of being American. They taught their children to speak English, taught them to obey the law and to respect the country that gave them a new life. These people struggled first to become American by coming here legally and then by becoming one of us. To simply walk across a no existent line in the dessert does not make one an American, it make you a criminal, who must hide in the shadows and take the leftovers and scraps from those who are truly American.

To be a true American you must be willing to give your all for your country even if that means that it is not the most popular position, it means putting the people of your country over the votes you hope to get. It means working your butt off at a job you hate to feed your kids, it means educating your self to do better and eventually getting what you want. It means going to church on Sunday knowing that you are there without the burden of knowing that just by being in this country you are sinning. It means sending your kids to school and teaching them the English language and let’s not kid ourselves all children have had to learn that language. We the parents taught them at home when they were young and then they were taught in the public schools, but they had to learn the English language. It means honoring our flag and our Pledge of Allegiance, respecting the laws of our country, all of them, not just the ones you like. So yes, Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, But only if they enter properly

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About The Author Carolyn Hileman:
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