Miss Liberty’s message still a timely one

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 12, 2001

The television reporter spoke in a matter-of-fact, nightly-news tone. He pointed out the towering lights, more than two to a pole, with a capacity to shine far into the parched border between the United States and Mexico.

Illegal border crossings are down in number, he reported. Then he reminded viewers how many young Mexicans already have lost their lives this year in attempts to gain entry into the United States.

It’s not so easy being a poor young Mexican man and fulfilling the legal requirements for coming to America to find work. No wonder, then, that so many attempt the arduous trek across the arid backlands. Many die of dehydration and exhaustion. The way is not easy. Others are captured by the border patrol officers whose numbers have increased dramatically in recent years. In other words, their chances of success are slim; their probable fate, bleak.

It is easy to lose one’s heart to the idea that the young Mexicans’ quest symbolizes. Their dreams are, after all, similar to those that inspired the 19th-century poet Emma Lazarus when she penned her famous words more than 100 years ago.

&uot;Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,&uot; Lazarus wrote in 1886, the year before she died at the young age of 38. &uot;Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my light beside the golden door.&uot;

The words of her inspiring poem have become famous as the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, and indeed the poem symbolizes beautifully the essence of that American icon.

Today, as figures from the 2000 Census make clear, America is reaping the rewards of having been a land where the golden door opened to welcome people from all corners of the earth. In our own small community in the Southwest corner of Mississippi, people of many nationalities settled in the early days. We enjoy a richer culture because of it.

The latest census makes clear that America, the emobidment of that great democratic experience we celebrated last week on Independence Day, is alive, well and multi-ethnic to an unparalleled degree.

Can we argue with the experts who declare the southern borders closed except to the privileged few? Are feelings of the heart empowered to overcome and change reasonable immigration and naturalization laws? If the borders were open, would that be a bad thing, to allow the young Mexicans who want to come to work to do so by traveling along safer paths?

Early travelers to this continent came seeking gold. Many who settled the great West were burning with gold fever. In 1848 the Californian, a San Francisco newspaper, said, &uot;The whole country from San Francisco to Los Angeles and from seashore to the base of the Sierra Nevadas, resounds with the sordid cry of ‘gold, gold, gold’ while the field is half planted, the house half built and everything neglected but the manufacture of shovels and pickaxes.&uot;

For those who dream the American dream from outside our borders, times have changed. That 1848 kind of gold fever has cooled. The hope of one day entering the golden door has not. The light we lift at our back door could use a dimmer switch; our border laws, a lesson from Miss Liberty.

Joan Gandy, special projects director, can be reached at 445-3549 or via e-mail joan.gandy@natchezdemocrat.com.