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The Huddled Masses Were Never Welcome

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Uniting immigrants and the native-born is an urgent imperative for the left. To do so, we must collectively reject not just the toxic politics of Trumpism but also the more subtle poison of liberal nationalism.

Kevin Young, Counterpunch

Submitted by Evergreene Digest Contributing Editor Lydia Howell

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September 5, 2017 |Trump adviser Stephen Miller made headlines last month when he openly repudiated the words at the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This Emma Lazarus verse is regularly regarded as the embodiment of U.S. generosity toward migrants and refugees. Schoolchildren learn it, and many commentators have invoked it to denounce the current administration’s attempts at ethnic cleansing. But while Trump’s xenophobia is extreme, it’s well within the historic parameters of anti-immigrant policy in this country.

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Noble rhetoric notwithstanding, the “huddled masses” have rarely been welcomed into the United States. Our economic and political system has always depended upon the exclusion or subordination of certain people based on class, race, gender, religion, and other factors, and our immigration laws have played a central role in preserving these inequalities. Resisting racism requires that we confront not just Trumpism but the broader elite consensus of exclusion and exploitation.

Kevin Young teaches history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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