Congressman Jason Chaffetz is seeking to pass a bill to speed up the deportation of Central American children entering the U.S. on the nation’s southwest border and make it tougher for these minors to gain asylum.
This caused me to reflect on my recent trip to New York and the cab driver I met. He was an immigrant from India who had been in the U.S. for over 30 years. He explained to me how he had recently lost his job as a pharmacist with Pfizer and found a job driving a cab so he could support his family. He proudly told me of his children, two of whom were in college: One at Columbia College and the other at St. John’s University. He said he had thought about returning to his native country for work but realized that after 30 years in the U.S., he would be a stranger in his native land. Plus his children would have trouble succeeding in a country they did not know. This immigrant, like many others, do all they can to support their children.
Now, there are thousands of Central American families who have decided to risk everything to make sure their children can survive. We recently found out that some have been placed temporarily in Utah. The parents have gone so far as to send their children alone with strangers across desolate lands in order to protect them from crime and atrocities in their own countries in hope of a better life in the United States. As a father of three, I can only imagine the anguish of sending one’s own child on such a journey. Such decisions are made only when there is no other hope of survival or decent lives in their homelands.
During my New York trip, I also saw the majestic Statue of Liberty, her name “Mother of Exiles.” The name “Mother of Exiles” comes from a plaque inside the statue with the poem of Emma Lazarus, The New Collosus, where we read the famous lines: "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!"
It seems like our nation has forgotten those immortal words. Congress first passed immigration laws in 1875 based on increased unhappiness with an open immigration policy during the tremendous rate of immigration. Between 1820 and 1880, political and economic conditions brought over 2.8 million Irish immigrants to the United States (this is the time period when the Corroon family first came to the New York area and settled in Brooklyn). German Catholic immigrants also came during the 1840s. American society did not accept the Irish Catholics and Germans, and movements to limit immigration began to form.
Not much appears to have changed since then. We fear immigrants for a variety of reasons. Some think they will take away our jobs, some believe they bring crime and poverty, some have prejudicial feelings towards other races and religions and others believe they will use social services and cause tax increases.
When these fears rise and we see legislation that turns our backs on those in need, we should remember the words of Emma Lazurus and the stories of immigrants like my cab driver whose family has come to this country for a better life, and who do what is necessary to survive and make sure their children succeed in our great nation. After all, we are a nation of immigrants. They make our nation strong.
Peter Corroon is Democratic party chair and former Salt Lake County Mayor.