Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif., is upset that the House passed two measures to speed up the deportation of Central Americans who illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.
In the tweet at the top of this post, she claims that the U.S. has abandoned a “promise” that was etched onto the Statue of Liberty. She’s talking about the poem The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, which has come to symbolize the Statue of Liberty even though that was not the intent of those who built the statue.
As Roberto Suro, a professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, noted in 2009, France gave the Statue of Liberty to the U.S. to commemorate the Revolutionary War. Those of you who learned history before the advent of Common Core may recall that France assisted the colonies in that war, and that the American Revolution served as an inspiration for the French Revolution. At the time, France’s gift had nothing to do with allowing Honduran gangbangers to enter the country illegally.
The bronze plaque with Lazarus’ poem was a gift from Georgina Schuyler, a New York philanthropist. It was installed inside a stairway within the pedestal beneath the statue itself in 1903, almost two decades after the statue opened. As Suro notes, “There was no ceremony when it was placed on a stairway landing inside the pedestal. For decades it went largely unnoticed, a memorial to a writer and reformer who died young rather than a defining inscription for the statue.”
Who decided to install the Lazarus plaque? Congress? The President? No. The War Department had authority over the statue between 1901 and 1932. The decision to install the poem in the statue’s pedestal was not a “promise” that “we as a nation” made. Rather, it was a decision made by an unknown War Department bureaucrat who neither spoke for the American people nor had any authority over U.S. immigration policy.
By coincidence, it turns out that today is the birthday of Statue of Liberty designer Frederic Auguste Bartholdi: