The attack on the Statue of Liberty from the White House yesterday echoes an old pattern of the radical right and extremist Christians. Cherry pick a little bit of accurate history and then crumple it up, sprinkle in a bit of sound-alike association, add a dollop of fear of “the other,” and you, too, can sound like an historical authority supporting completely a-historical interpretations.
White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller was technically accurate in his history lesson about the plaque with the “New Colossus” sonnet being added to the Statue of Liberty almost two decades after the statue itself was unveiled. He was also accurate in pointing out that U.S. immigration policies have ebbed and flowed dramatically over time. In fact, during the construction period for the Statue of Liberty, the U.S. passed its first blatantly biased immigration law. The exclusion of Chinese immigrants in 1882 was the first of many more to follow as that “golden door” began to close in 1921. Quotas were then imposed to restrict immigrants from “undesirable” countries in an attempt “to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity.” (Immigration Act of 1924) Anti-immigration advocates even adopted the Statue of Liberty in the early days to show her holding her nose against the “Dregs of Europe.”
Even though U.S. immigration policies have been anything but welcoming at times, and even though it was not the original intention of the designers, the mythic identity of the Statue of Liberty as welcoming any and all “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” has firmly entered American mythological folklore. Continue reading