No more room for ‘the huddled masses’

While New York celebrates the anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, America shows little desire to welcome immigrants.

Nathalie Rothschild

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Topics Politics

Last weekend, New York marked the one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of the Statue of Liberty with great pomp and circumstance. The ceremonies kicked off with the naturalisation of 125 citizens from all over the world and ended with spectacular fireworks framing Lady Liberty, that great symbol that has welcomed scores of immigrants and visitors since it was donated by the French in 1886 as a tribute to American freedom.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, it emerged that the US Border Patrol is using a new weapon in its fight against mass immigration: buses. In an effort to deter deported illegal immigrants from sneaking back across the border, the Border Patrol is increasingly bussing immigrants caught in southern Arizona to Texas and California, where they are then sent back to Mexico.

Today, mass immigration is widely portrayed as a threat to national security, economy and social stability. Few are ready to live by the credo of America as a safe haven for ‘the huddled masses’, as described in the famous poem by Emma Lazarus that is engraved inside the statue’s pedestal. Yet at least Lady Liberty is an enduring reminder of that ideal.

Lady Liberty watches over Manhattan

Unveiled on 28 October 1886, Liberty Enlightening the World, aka the Statue of Liberty, is arguably the world’s most famous sculpture. Designed by Frédéric Bartholdi as a gift to the United States from the people of France, the statue represents Libertas, the Roman goddess of Freedom. Lady Liberty bears a torch – a symbol for enlightenment – and a tablet inscribed with the date of the American Declaration of Independence: 4 July 1776. On her birthday last weekend, the statue got a high-tech addition: ‘TorchCams’ now allow people around the globe to see the world from Liberty’s point of view. (Picture taken on 5 March 2009.)

The New Colossus

At the anniversary ceremony on Friday, actress Sigourney Weaver recited Emma Lazarus’ famous poem, The New Colossus. Written in 1883 to help raise funds for the construction of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, the poem was inscribed on a bronze tablet and fitted to the interior of the pedestal in 1903. The poem’s most famous line – ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ – became an American credo. But Weaver told spiked that Lazarus’ message no longer holds true: ‘The poem doesn’t say “give me only your entrepreneurs from China and India”… We have 12million illegal aliens that we need to work with and we need to move ahead in a fair, honest and non-hypocritical way.’

A proud park ranger

Jonathan B Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, told spiked that Lady Liberty still is a symbol for America as a land of opportunity. ‘Sometimes we falter and it’s our responsibility as the park authority to tell those stories, too… Every citizen of the planet wants to be free and to realise their full potential. At least the US sets out that you can achieve that.’

War veterans

Warren George, 71, and Ralph Como, 66, of New Jersey are retired war veterans. Como, who served in Vietnam, has attended every Statue of Liberty anniversary for the past 25 years. ‘The statue stands for hope, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, he said, ‘and we, as veterans, fought for your right to be here – free’. George, who served in Korea, agreed. ‘We’re one of the countries that profess to, and keep, those values’, he said.

The two-faced mayor

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the crowd at the ceremony that the statue ‘remains an inspiration for people all around the world’. The mayor’s own commitment to liberty is questionable, however. On immigration, he is relatively open-minded. He recently said: ‘America must always honour our tradition of welcoming the tired and tempest-tossed. We are a land of opportunity because we have always been a country of compassion.’ But he also wants immigration reform based solely on the economic needs of America, rather than on the aspirations of the people who want to seek a better life there. Moreover, Bloomberg has taken the liberty to micro-manage New Yorkers’ lives in a way that is ultimately freedom-robbing, from extending the public-smoking ban to attempting to prevent the poor from buying fizzy drinks. Curiously, at the one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of Lady Liberty, Bloomberg called the event sponsor, Coca Cola, ‘a great corporate citizen’.

Renovating Liberty

The US secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar, speaking on behalf of President Barack Obama, recalled the words of former US president Grover Cleveland, who spoke at the statue’s unveiling in 1886. ‘Liberty has found a home on this island’, he said. We will care for her, we will celebrate her. We, the people of the United States, will continue to perfect her in both word and deed.’ Salazar then announced that, as part of a $27million renovation project, the Statue of Liberty will be fitted with a new lift so that the mobility-impaired can reach the observation deck. Is that what Cleveland had in mind?

View more pictures from the Statue of Liberty 125th birthday celebrations here.

Nathalie Rothschild is an international correspondent for spiked. Visit her personal website here. Follow her on Twitter @n_rothschild.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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Topics Politics

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