Can We Unlock the Golden Door?

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

By Robert C. Koehler

Around 9 a.m., a helicopter began circling overhead. Moments later, as Jonathan Blitzer wrote recently in the New Yorker, a fleet of cars pulled up outside the meat-processing plant in Bean Station, Tenn. . . .

And the SS guys stepped out.

Oh wait, I mean the ICE agents, who swarmed through the plant and wound up arresting 97 “illegals.”

In Morristown, a nearby town where most of the arrestees lived, “the raid was catastrophic news. Families’ worst fear had come true: husbands, fathers, wives, mothers — gone. The following day, more than five hundred students were reported absent from area schools, kept home out of a combination of fear, anxiety, and confusion.”

Before I go any further, I feel compelled to summon the last six lines of Emma Lazarus’ hallowed sonnet, “The New Colossus,” written in 1883, which of course honored Lady Liberty, a statue then two decades away from being created and installed:

“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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Now, back to the ICE raids, which are keeping us safe from sea to shining sea. “ICE busts 225 people during sweeping six-day raid in New York,” reads the headline from several days ago in the New York Daily News. The raid, which seemed to grasp only the “wretched refuse” part of the Lazarus poem, was called Operation Keep Safe.

Then there was the raid of a dairy farm in Rome, N.Y., and the arrest of a worker in front of his children, who were waiting for the school bus. The owner of the farm, shocked by what was happening, asked the ICE guys to see their warrant. They had no warrant. The owner, according to, “followed them across the road, attempting to video what they were doing. At that point, he said, an officer took the farmer’s phone and threw it across the road. Then . . . they put him in handcuffs.”

And across the continent: “A Napa (California) family has been torn apart after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents swarmed their property and arrested the father,” according to an ABC News report. He was doing yard work, his wife said. “‘Probably like five-six cars just stopped and all of a sudden they just got out, armed and with their bullet proof vests.” He was 39 years old. He had been living in this country since he was 4.

And on and on: Families and communities are being shredded and terrorized in the name of what Todd Miller, writing at TomDispatch, has described with disconcerting accuracy as a “border fetish.” This fetish has been intensifying politically and militarily for the last two decades: this manufactured fear of life beyond the sacred perimeters of America, this fear of the outsider within, the “criminal alien” who managed to sneak past the guards at the nation’s gates in order to live a life he doesn’t deserve and steal the resources that belong to real Americans.

“The fact is that a so-called sanctuary city does not only provide refuge to those who are here against immigration law,” an ICE agent explains in the Daily News article, lambasting the mayor of New York for the city’s non-cooperation with the federal agents, “but also provides protections for criminal aliens who prey on the people in their own communities by committing crimes at all levels.”

The ICE raids are justified with the ignorance of racism and war — and with an ignorance of the values that were once this country’s claim (shaky as it may have been) to greatness. The actual values the raids do uphold have a certain familiarity, however.

Speaking of the partial border wall that has actually been built, following the Secure Fence Act of 2006 (which had bipartisan support), Miller writes: “Those 650 miles of walls and barriers cost an average of $3.9 million per mile to build and additional millions to maintain, money that went into the coffers of the military-industrial complex.” One of the beneficiaries, he notes, is the former Halliburton subsidiary and Iraq war profiteer Kellogg Brown & Root, which received a $24.4 million contract to maintain the wall.

Furthermore, he writes, the budgets of the two agencies that uphold American separateness, Customs and Border Protection and ICE, are currently $24.3 billion, “a more than 15-fold increase since the early 1990s and a $4.7 billion jump from 2017.”

This consciousness has to change. Right now, America is the global leader of a nationalism fixated entirely on “defending” its short-term interests and fetishes, in a world increasingly ravaged by war, poverty and environmental devastation.

Meanwhile: “At a global level,” Miller writes, “the forecast for the displacement of people is only expected to rise. According to projections, when it comes to climate change alone, by 2050 there could be between 150 million and 750 million people on the move due to sea level rise, droughts, floods, super storms, and other ecological hazards.”

The concept of the nation, an imaginary configuration of interests protected by military strength, is becoming increasingly obsolete. The United States, as the planet’s largest superpower, must find the will and leadership to reopen itself to values beyond those coldly enforced by ICE.

Ironically, as Blitzer pointed out in the New Yorker, many of the residents of Morristown — a conservative mid-South town full of Trump supporters — came to the aid of their neighbors after the ICE arrests, raising money to help families with members in detention, kind of the way a community comes together after a natural disaster has devastated it.

“For many people in town, the raid exposed the human costs of the political fight over immigration policy,” Blitzer wrote. Some of the non-illegals dug deeply into their Christianity and decided, as one resident put it to him, “God loves everybody equally.”

And Emma Lazarus nodded her head in silent agreement.