Huddled masses and deceptive clichés

by Fred Elbel
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!"

- "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, 1883

The Statue of Liberty was erected in 1886, when world population was little more than one billion and the U.S. population was 50 million. Many do not realize that the Statue of Liberty was a gift to the U.S. from France, with the title, "Liberty Enlightening the World". The statue and its symbolism had nothing to do with immigration, but rather hope that the rest of the world would adopt Democracy. The Emma Lazurus plaque (it is not chiseled in the base), "send me your huddled masses" was added ten years later during the immigration peak of that age.

The sonnet, "The New Colossus", was written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 as part of a literary campaign to raise funds for the completion of the Statue's pedestal. Not much attention was paid to it until the tide of immigration surged at the turn of the century. The plaque memorialized the sonnet in 1903 and was placed on the inner wall of the Statue's pedestal.

Roberto Suro pointed out in a Washington Post article1:

Inscribed on a small brass plaque mounted inside the statue's stone base, the poem is an appendix, added belatedly, and it can safely be removed, shrouded or at least marked with a big asterisk. We live in a different era of immigration, and the schmaltzy sonnet offers a dangerously distorted picture of the relationship between newcomers and their new land.

The most enduring meaning conveyed by Lady Liberty has nothing do with immigration, and I say let's go back to that. The statue's original name is "Liberty Enlightening the World," and the tablet the lady holds in her left hand reads "July IV, MDCCLXXVI" to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Lady Liberty celebrates U.S. political values as a force for the betterment of humanity, as well as the bond of friendship among freedom-loving nations. That's a powerful and worthy message...

Bad poetry makes for bad policy."

It should be noted that even back then, our immigration policy was selective. In the 1880's Congress drafted a flurry of legislation - laws that became benchmarks against which an immigrant was measured during the inspection progress. The first general Federal Immigration Law denied entrance to "any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge." 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.2

In 1891 this law was expanded to include the expulsion of paupers, prostitutes, polygamists, or "persons suffering from a loath-some or a dangerous contagious disease..." Those with incurable or disabling ailments were excluded and returned to their port of departure at the expense of the steamship line on which they arrived.2

Since 1886, U.S. population has increased by a factor of six3. The U.S. is the world's highest-consuming nation, and is no longer in need of settlement. Indeed, we have no vast open spaces left to settle. A complete reversal of immigration perspective is now required:

Our physical habitat is being threatened by an immigration flow that represents only 1 percent of Third World annual population growth... Americans must trade a national vision of beckoning Status of Liberty and a vision of wide-open spaces for a more realistic one of a world of limits and constraints."

- B. Meredith Burke, "A statue With Limitations," Newsweek, February 24, 1994.

In the book Huddled Cliches, Lawrence Auster effectively counters other mindless cliches used by the open borders lobby to further their agenda.4 He refutes the most common immigration cliche:

“We are a nation of immigrants.”

This—the veritable “king” of open-borders clichés—seems at first glance to be an indisputable statement, in the sense that all Americans, even including the American Indians, are either immigrants themselves or descendants of people who came here from other places. Given the above, it would be more accurate to say that we are “a nation of people descended from immigrants.”... implies that anyone who is not an immigrant, or who does not identify with immigration as a key aspect of his own being, is not a “real” American...

In reality, we are not—even in a figurative sense—a nation of immigrants or even a nation of descendants of immigrants. As Chilton Williamson pointed out in The Immigration Mystique, the 80,000 mostly English and Scots-Irish settlers of colonial times, the ancestors of America’s historic Anglo-Saxon majority, had not transplanted themselves from one nation to another (which is what defines immigration), but from Britain and its territories to British colonies. They were not immigrants, but colonists...

...every nation could be called a nation of immigrants (or a nation of invaders) if you go back far enough...

Auster points out another self-defeating ingrained perspective:

"As descendants of immigrants, it would be selfih and immoral of us to support immigration restrictions."

For many descendants of European immigrants, particularly Jews, this is the decisive pro-immigration argument. Even when they agree (however reluctantly) that current immigration is leading to intractable problems for America, they remain emotionally incapable of supporting actual restrictions on immigration, since in their minds that would mean embracing the same prejudices that were once directed against their parents and grandparents. They have a primal and (given the philo-Semitic character of this country) irrational fear that to criticize immigration at all would be tantamount to saying that they themselves don't belong in this country. Former Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz reflcted such sentiments when he remarked once that it would be "unseemly" for him as a Jew to side with immigration restrictionists.

Yet mass immigration is driving America's population to double within the lifetime of children born today. New projections point to a Majority Minority Nation in 2044. The deleterious environmental consequences of immigration-driven population growth will be profound, and will be felt by future generations of Americans - of all races, creeds, and colors.5

It is high time we dump the trite clichés6 and refocus on the America we are bequeathing to future generations. 



1.  She Was Never About Those Huddled Masses, by Roberto Suro, The Washington Post, July, 2009.

2. Reports of the Immigration Commission: Immigration Legislation, United States Immigration Commission, 1910, archived at University of Michigan.

Ellis Island History, Ellis Island Foundation.

Ellis Island, Ostrobothnian Osysseys.

Ellis Island, Prezi, 2013.

3. Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses from 1790-2000, US Census Bureau, 2002. From Appendix A, US population in 1880 was 50,155,783. US Population in December, 2014 was 319,444,000. Thus, population grew by a factor of 6.37.

4. Huddled Cliches, by Lawrence Auster, 1997,  revised 2008, 59 pages. Read Huddled Cliches in PDF format, or read Huddled Cliches in html format.

The book contains refutation of open borders cliches by topic: The Economic Argument, False Parallels with Other Cultures - The Myth of Hispanic Family Values, The Fallacy of “Conservative” Open Borders, and The Emotional Case.

5. Population Driven to Double by Mass Immigration, CAIRCO.

New Projections Point to a Majority Minority Nation in 2044, William H. Frey, Brookings Institution, December 12, 2014.

Environment and the consequences of immigration-driven population growth, CAIRCO.

6. How to Win The Immigration Debate, by Scipio Garling, Federation for American Immigration Reform, 1997, ISBN 0-935776-24-9. An immensely valuable resource. It is factual, comprehensive, and concise - the definitive resource.

Also available as an abridged pocket version: How to Win the Immigration Debate (Pocket edition), by Scipio Garling, Federation for American Immigration Reform, 2001, ISBN 978-0971007925.