EDITORIAL: The right to breathe free

York Dispatch Editorial Board
The Statue of Liberty, designed and built in France, was assembled on Bedloe's Island in 1886, six years before Ellis Island opened nearby as an immigrant processing facility. (Chris Reynolds/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

"Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."

That's the interpretation Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, gives for the poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Really. This is what we've come to.

We've known Donald Trump was against immigrants since the moment he announced he was running for president.

His comments about "s—hole countries," calling Mexican immigrants rapists, and opinions that the U.S. needs more immigrants from countries such as predominantly white Norway have spread far and wide.

More:Trump official: Statue of Liberty’s poem is about Europeans

In fact, the Trump administration seems to be on a bit of a roll right now, between changing the rules about public assistance for immigrants and conducting raids on workplaces that end with hundreds of people being deported.

On Monday, the administration announced it would seek to deny green cards showing permanent resident status to migrants who seek Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance or are “more likely than not” to seek public benefits for more than 12 months over a period of three years.

The new rules do not apply to active-duty military personnel, asylum seekers or refugees, but the Trump administration is cutting back on the paltry number of refugees allowed into the country already and is making it increasingly difficult to apply for asylum. 

Immigrant advocates say people will now be afraid to apply for help they need and should be able to receive, and that the wording gives immigration officials too much authority in deciding who will be given legal status and who will be turned away. 

Emma Lazarus’s 1883 poem “The New Colossus” is displayed Wednesday on a replica of the original at the Statue of Liberty Museum, located on Liberty Island opposite the statue in New York. The poem is best known for its line welcoming “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The original plaque bearing these words is located inside the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Last week, just days after a white man allegedly drove nine hours to kill 22 Latinos shopping at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement swept through a handful of chicken-processing plants, arresting 680 people and leaving unknown numbers of children — U.S. citizens, born in America — returning home from their first day of school to discover that their parents were missing. 

"(We’re) not a social service agency,” one ICE official said.

No. Indeed, it seems that the intent of ICE, the Customs and Border Patrol and many other agencies under this administration is to find the cruelest way to do their jobs. 

We understand that there need to be controls on immigration, that U.S. borders need to be secure, that people who want to come here to do harm must be turned away.

But we are also a nation of immigrants. Of more than 372 million people living in the United States, only 2.9 million, or less than 1%, are Native Americans. The rest of us have parents, grandparents, great-grandparents to the nth degree who were born in another land and came to this country, whether by choice or not.

Trump, of all people, should know this. Two of his three wives were born in other countries and immigrated here, as did his mother.

And yet he continues to spread hate for immigrants, to change rules, to deport more and more people. 

Those of us who can stand up must make it known that this is not the United States we are proud to be citizens of, that we do not condone these actions by people saying they are acting for us. 

Here are the real words of "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, carved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore." 

No mention of color, no mention of language, and the poor are specifically named as wanted. What we need now is an administration that will allow others the right to breathe free.