Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor… Your Best!?

In the days leading to this Fourth of July celebration, a certain presidential candidate made remarks regarding immigration and how a certain nation to our south doesn’t send us “their best.” While those remarks have gotten him in substantial hot water, perhaps because I don’t hail from said country, but one a few hundred miles east of it, I’ve struggled with how to take his remarks. Setting aside hyperbole (e.g., mention of criminals, drug smugglers and rapists), are we to presume that immigrants other countries “send us” and we accept are the best?

If said candidate were to review the words inscribed on a famous monument not far from where he emblazons his name in large, golden letters on his own buildings, he might find something like this:

Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, doesn't say give me your best, by Eduardo Suastegui

Note the curious absence of the word “best”? It comes as no accident. In fact, it represents an intentional omission. The tired, the poor, the wretched refuse (can you get more offensive!)—they’re not at their best. More often than not, they fall on the other side of the spectrum.

Looking back at my own immigrant experience, I will admit it. I could not by any stretch of the imagination count myself among “the best.” A quick review of immigration history will reveal the same, even among those immigrants sporting lighter skin and European ancestry. Think those Italians and Irish were at their best? Did Great Britain sent their best to inhabit the colonies?

Stop and think about it, and the idea that “the best” emigrate to distant lands should in most cases strike you as ridiculous. Why would the most educated, or the richest, or the ones ready to hit the ground running to pump up your GDP leave what they have (presumably “the best”) and risk a long uncertain journey? Why would they bother to learn new languages, decipher a new culture, and make their way in strange environment?

They won’t. The distressed are more likely to take extreme measures. The destitute risk the little comfort they have in the place they know for the promise of what they might earn and achieve in the unknown.

Let’s admit it, then. Chances are the poor, the hungry—the wretched—come looking for opportunity. We should not despair over this. We may not be the best, but we desperately want and strive for something better. And watch out. That hunger, the yearning to be free, will make us industrious, and innovative, and above all thankful to the country that not only welcomes us, but grants us a chance to one day stand among the best. And even if we don’t make it, if we arrive when we’re too old to make a full run at the dream, we’ll be just as thankful if our children get a fair chance to achieve more than we did.

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