“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!” –Emma Lazarus
Watching news reports about the recent flood of immigrants to our southern border, one would think that the year 2021 was the first time in American history that our nation had faced the influx of desperate refugees. So, of course, the Spirited Reasoner performed his usual feat of cursory research. A table can be found at the Department of Homeland Security’s website listing the number of persons seeking permanent residence status in the United States for every year since 1820. See: Table 1. Persons Obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Status: Fiscal Years 1820 to 2017 | Homeland Security (dhs.gov)
In that table, a casual reader will observe that in the year 2016—the last full year of President Obama’s presidency and the year in which Donald Trump was elected—a total of 1,183,505 immigrants applied for permanent residency status in the United States. Spirited Reasoners, however, are not content to stop there. We insist on scrolling down a bit further. Note that in the year 1991, during the presidency of George H. W. Bush, a total of 1,826,595 immigrants sought permanent residency status, a number 54% greater than in 2016.
Scroll down even further. Note that in the year 1907 there were 1,285,249 people seeking permanent residency. The flood of immigrants that year followed similar numbers in 1905 and 1906. This pattern was repeated during the years 1910 through 1914.
One more bit of historical arithmetic is in order.
Since the population of the United States in the year 1907 was only around 90 million residents (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_history_of_the_United_States) the number of foreigners applying for permanent residency that year exceeded 1% of the total population. In other words, for every 100 people living in the United State at that time, at least one of them was an immigrant seeking permanent residence status.
Fast forward to 2016, when approximately 325 million people who were living in the United States during that election year. Though the figure 1,183,505 may seem high, it calculates to less than half a percent of the total population, far less than in 1907.
Does our nation have the capacity to assimilate so many refugees? Of course we do. We’ve done it over and over again as a nation. What may be lacking, however, is a sense of national will.
Are we still the nation of the Statue of Liberty, which bears the words of Emma Lazarus quoted above? I believe we are. I believe we are capable of building the temporary homes, schools, cafeterias, and placement centers necessary to welcome every refugee child and their respective families. I believe we have the resources to supply these desperate people with medical care, social workers, and job placement assistance.
Some, including many who call themselves Christian, will argue that the proper approach is to block the path of every man, woman, and child. Build That Wall! That’ll teach them not to show up at our border uninvited!
Spirited Reasoners, on the other hand, know that much of our nation’s identity was built by desperate people seeking freedom from oppression.
Are the numbers high? Yes. Are they so high that our great nation must place a tarp over the Statue of Liberty while we turn inward with our cries of “Bah, humbug, sorry. No room at the inn”? I think we’re better people than that.
To those of us who call ourselves Christian, I would add the following: When our time comes to leave this earth, do we really think God will not ask about how we treated His children when they sought admission into the United States?