By Dianne Feintein
Originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune
My office has received more than 183,000 letters, emails and phone calls opposing President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. It’s the most vocal outcry I’ve seen in some time, but it makes perfect sense — President Trump’s xenophobic policies stand in stark contrast to who we are as a nation.
The latest proposal from the president is no better. He’s now suggesting that we only allow immigrants to enter the country who are wealthy or educated; who are not too old, too young, too poor or too desperate; and who can speak English. He adds that we should also turn away grandparents, brothers and sisters, and those most at risk to violence and poverty.
That’s not the America I know. We need look no further than the Statue of Liberty for that lesson.
The statue was completed in New York Harbor in 1886 and includes the most American of principles on its base. Most of us know at least a portion of the poem: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Fewer know that the poem was written by Emma Lazarus, who at the time was helping Jewish refugees who had fled violence in Eastern Europe and Russia and settled in New York.
The parallels to today, with immigrants fleeing horrific violence in Central America in search of a better life, couldn’t be clearer. Unfortunately, President Trump is playing the role of the anti-Lazarus.
If Trump were a 19th-century poet, he may have written: “Give me your well-off, your most fortunate, your skilled workers who can make rich companies richer and take middle-class jobs.”
We’ve seen this before. In 1939, the United States turned away a ship of more than 900 German Jews fleeing the Holocaust. Instead of heeding the words of Emma Lazarus, the United States shamefully hid behind another merit-based immigration policy, one that rewarded your color of skin and country of birth.
The United Nations commemorates the tragedy of the Holocaust each year on Jan. 27. Given the rhetoric of Donald Trump, it’s not surprising that on the first International Holocaust Remembrance Day of his presidency, President Trump signed an order indefinitely suspending the resettlement of Syrian refugees, freezing the entire refugee resettlement program and banning anyone from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States.
I prefer an immigration policy based more on Emma Lazarus and less on Donald Trump.
This country was built on the shoulders of refugees, farmworkers and families who built new lives here after fleeing persecution. They didn’t arrive with lots of money or advanced degrees, but they made enormous contributions to our society.
Industry, transportation, arts, agriculture and more, all of them wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for an immigrant work force that would arrive, work hard for a better life and integrate itself into the fabric of this country.
The United States is a mosaic of people from all around the world who come together to seek a better life, freedom or just to reunite with their loved ones. It’s not easy for people who give up everything to come here, and sometimes it’s not easy on us, but ultimately we’re all better off for it.
That’s why the new White House merit-based immigration policy is so harmful. It’s elitism, plain and simple.
It’s impossible to say just how many people reading this newspaper wouldn’t be in the United States if these policies were in place 50 or 100 or 200 years ago. We’re more than just technocrats, Nobel scientists, engineers and brain surgeons. We’re farmworkers, students, soldiers, janitors, firefighters and secretaries too.
As Americans, we take all the things that make us different — people from all countries, all backgrounds — and we make that diversity our strength. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
President Trump’s immigration policy stands in direct opposition to that. It’s un-American.
Feinstein is a U.S. senator representing California.