January 22, 2017

Mariano: To Trump and the Republican Congress, in defense of immigrants

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Mariano: Trump and Republicans should look to Lady Liberty for inspiration on immigrants.

Editor’s note: Please continue to enjoy this free preview of Ray’s unique perspective and unmistakable candor, and be sure to check back in coming weeks to find out how you can keep on reading Worcester’s best commentary without becoming a Sun member when the preview ends. Ray can be reached via email at Mariano@worcester.ma.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
— Emma Lazarus, from New Colossus, inscribed at the site of the Statue of Liberty

Ray Mariano

I remember the day my mother became an American citizen; it was one of the proudest days of her life. She loved America and everything that came with it. But that did not mean that she still did not cheer on her beloved Montreal Canadiens whenever they played the Boston Bruins.

Similarly, my father-in-law loves our country. He came to America, from Greece, as a young man in search of the American dream. But he is fiercely proud of anything and everything connected to his Greek heritage.

Except for Native Americans, all of our families came from somewhere else.  Excluding those brought here in chains, our ancestors left the land of their birth in search of the blessings, opportunities and freedoms offered by our great country.

No other country, in the history of mankind, can claim that kind of lineage. It is what makes us different and exceptional.

As has been told countless times, our ancestors’ journey to America was seldom easy. Many immigrants came to their new country with little in the way of worldly possessions. They were often uneducated and took the most menial jobs when they arrived.

They also arrived to face the penetrating glare of suspicious eyes, damning whispers and contempt from their new countrymen.

In an effort to survive, these new immigrants formed insular communities. They lived next to each other in small, ramshackle neighborhoods, built their own churches and relied on each other to find their way.

And despite the contempt of many of their fellow citizens, it was immigrants who built our nation. They built the first railroads, bridges, and roads. They mined the coal that fueled the nation and worked endless hours in our factories. In our history classes, we learned about innovative industrialists like Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie. We exalt their achievements as examples of the greatness of our nation. However, we seldom discuss the humble men and women upon whose shoulders these industrialists stood.

It is also important to remember that the bodies of these new Americans and their children littered the shores of Omaha Beach and the battlefields of Iwo Jima in defense of their beloved America.

Today, many of us have forgotten where we came from, who we are, and what makes America great.

Like past generations, we face the arrival of a new wave of immigrants. These immigrants come with darker skin, speak different languages, practice different customs, and many hold to a different religion. When you think about it, how is that different from our immigrant ancestors?

Today, America is under attack from a ruthless enemy. These radical terrorists have inflicted their greatest damage, not in the blood they have shed on our shores, but in the fear they have injected into our hearts.

That fear has led to many of us asking that the flame of the Statue of Liberty’s torch be extinguished, at least for some time. Others have asked that we force Muslims to “register” so we can keep track of them. Unfortunately, this kind of paranoia is not new.

Many years ago, America was attacked by a ruthless enemy. In World War II, Japan devastated the U.S. Pacific Fleet in an unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor. Thousands died or were wounded.

One of the consequences of that attack and our subsequent involvement in the war was the internment of 110,000 to 120,000 loyal Americans into camps. Of those, 62 percent were already American citizens.

Out of fear and rationalized by our prejudices, we rounded up otherwise patriotic citizens and forced them to live as prisoners in camps solely based on their Japanese heritage.

That action remains a stain on our glorious history. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a law apologizing for the internment, admitting that the government’s actions were based on race prejudices, and ultimately paying $1.6 billion in reparations to those families.

Certainly, we need to ensure, to the very best of our ability, that those who come to our country for refuge do not come intending to cause harm. They should be vetted and we should insist that they pass the most stringent background checks.

But our current political rhetoric is antithetical to our country’s identity and history.

Wikimedia Commons / Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump

President Trump, during his election campaign, fanned the flames of fear by referring to terrorists, rapists and drug dealers when talking about immigrants. At one point he called for a halt to new immigrants based on their Muslim faith. Then he changed that to halting immigration based on the country of origin, the vast majority of whose citizens are Muslim.

His words, while politically opportunistic, also give license to those who would ignore our immigrant-rich past.

It is impossible to read the words in Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, which are inscribed on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty, and not be inspired:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And her name: “Mother of Exiles.”

Today, we are watching to see what members of Congress will do to further restrict legal immigration. And there are some states that want to take matters into their own hands.

The Associated Press has reported that although Montana took in only nine refugee families in almost all of 2016, it wants the ability to allow cities and towns to request a moratorium on resettlements in its communities. In other words, now that my family is in, we can shut the door.

I remember hearing a high school graduation speech when I was mayor. Speaking for his fellow graduates, a young man recounted his journey to America from Vietnam. We learned that he fled his country on a rickety wooden boat. Along that journey his mother fell overboard and drowned. Delivered with a heavy accent, his speech was riveting and when he addressed his “dear mother,” the entire auditorium was in tears.

If you believe in the promise of America, if you think about how our nation was formed and on whose backs it was built, I cannot understand how you can ask that we close the doors to our great nation.

We should not deny a legacy that has made America the envy of the world. It is precisely this heritage that makes America great!

Raymond V. Mariano is a Worcester Sun columnist. He is the former mayor of Worcester and former executive director of the Worcester Housing Authority. Ray grew up in Great Brook Valley and holds degrees from two city universities. He comments on his hometown every Sunday in Worcester Sun.

12 thoughts on “Mariano: To Trump and the Republican Congress, in defense of immigrants

  1. Mr. Mariano,

    I have always liked you best out any local politician from the democratic side of the isle but I just don’t agree with you and feel as though you leave out a lot of details in your comments. I’m not going to go into on the limitations on immigration we have had over the years or rules that were in place that would insure people were not a drain financially on our society because you know them as well as I do or better. Basically I believe we can have a entitlement society or free and open borders but both at the same time is a recipe for disaster. Also I can’t help but wonder how much more success you would have had at the housing authority with your pilot programs under a more willing partner like the Trunp administration. The last administration fought you every step of the way and I believe you were doing good work.

  2. Too bad the editorial starts with the patently false suggestion that “Native Americans” did not come from somewhere else. Unless one subscribes to a theory of spontaneous generation, the ancestors of “Native Americans” did come from somewhere else, albeit somewhat sooner than your ancestors or mine. Makes it hard to take the rest seriously. On a substantive level, a more disinterested observer might conclude that contemporary immigration patterns could have the same unfortunate impact on our culture that our arrival had on the culture of “Native Americans”.

  3. Immigrants versus ILLEGAL immigrants. Just sayin… Also, every country or land is populated with people from elsewhere. Liberals will say anything to get their way. ANYTHING!

  4. There is a big difference between those who sneak in and those who come here legally. The ones that trump was referring to are the one who sneak in illegally. My father and his family were legal immigrants.

  5. Mr, Mariano,
    I would agree with your comments for the most part, however, you and many of my countrymen fail to discuss the immigration problem adequately.
    The problem is we have 11 to 12 million (or whatever number one wishes to choose), I’m not saying that we should round them all up and send them back to their country of origin and then build a wall to keep them out of our country. Let’s face they came to America to make a better life for their families, only they didn’t do it the right way, They’re here in my opinion the cost to round them up and and build a wall is far too great and we have more important issues before us. We should let them know that they must register with Immigration,(no deportation) and they would be given a card that would allow them the ability to work and pay taxes, no other benefits unless they pay for them (Health Insurance). WE as a nation need to rigorously vet all those who wish to come here to keep out criminals and terrorists. America is still great, although, many other nations, even those that take our dollars hate us and that is one of our greatest challenges. I hope President Trump and our Republican Congress can meet the challenges ahead, only time will tell.

  6. Mr. Mariano, as usual a nice article. It seems that you speak from your heart and appreciate the link to our past. I believe we have an opportunity to take the high road and create a strong bridge to the future .
    So often, Washington politicians talked about a “comprehensive immigration plan” which generally meant – delay and do nothing. I believe your words/phrases that jumped off the page: …”should be vetted, … pass the most stringent background checks…loved America” – are the “keys” to finding common ground as our beloved country moves forward.

  7. I think it’s likely because liberals are so afraid to use the term “illegal immigrants” they forget they exist and think that Trump and his brother Republicans are looking to stop legal immigration. There’s a huge difference between people coming here who, like the generations you’re speaking of, can add to what makes America great and people who are coming here unskilled with their hands out. Like a seven year old bringing home stray cats there has to be a point where we say we can’t afford it.

    Those hard working Irish, Chinese, Jewish, Russian, German and countless other nationalities came here at the turn of the last century because they wanted to improve themselves in this great country. There was no welfare back then, and only the hope and promise of a better life if you were willing to work for it, not the promise of a government check just for being here.

    Wake up Mr Mayor.

  8. Ray, your heart has always been in the right place- I am a refugee too, and “legal”. But the quota system almost eliminated us from getting in, and there was no place else to go in 1941. So I can understand the desperation of many who face death or worse in their homelands.
    We really need to look at WHY so many are fleeing their countries, and solve those problems, rather than to continue to make war, encourage coups, support the exploitation of native resources all over (by the same multinationals who gave us WWI and WWII, and profited mightily from the slaughter, as they are still doing) No one WANTS to lose everything and try to survive in a foreign nation –
    “Economic immigrants are a different problem: UI recall saying that NAFTA should not be implemented unless there was a stipulation that wages and working conditions in participating nations be brought up to our standards, or there would be a huge exodus from those countries where exploitation of workers was rife. It will not get better until our foreign policy reflects those values, and we no longer cover for those who use other nations to enrich themselves at the expense of their own peoples.

  9. The premise of the piece (as always with every rebuttal to Trump) is dishonest to its core by its omission of facts . Noone suggests an end to “immigration” .
    Your mother presumably came here through legal means . Italian immigrants worked and brought skills as did other legal immigrants .
    Japanese Americans never set off pressure cooker bombs at sporting events and gunned down large amounts of people in public places. Yes they were wrongly treated . Different time , no connection whatsoever!
    “stringent background checks” Not possible , no law enforcement data on Obamas ideologically inserted refugees. Good luck with that one .
    What Trump suggested which is of course twisted by the left , is a hold up until we can figure out who is safe to admit. Left out of your piece of course.
    The statue of liberty is not a symbol to encourage lawlessness and shouldn’t be used as such . Kathryn Steinle , who was gunned down by an illegal alien harbored by a “sanctuary city” and those like her , no longer have a say in this . A sad commentary which of course doesn’t fit the liberal narrative of ILLEGAL immigration being called “immigration ” .

  10. Ray please go away. You make a living off immigrants. And now you have two pensions. Thansk to immigrants and the poor.

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