Democratic Lawmaker Wants Second Statue of Liberty on Mexican Border

Immigration enforcement advocate says Rep. José Serrano 'has no idea' what American landmark 'is all about'

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 18 Jul 2017 at 10:46 PM

Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) called for Congress to “build another Statue of Liberty” on the U.S.-Mexico border, instead of President Donald Trump’s signature border wall, during a Homeland Security markup hearing Tuesday.

The Puerto Rican-born Serrano, who serves New York City’s South Bronx in Congress, used his floor time Tuesday to decry the president’s oft-repeated calls to build a border wall. A down payment for funding the barrier was included Tuesday in the House Budget Committee’s spending proposal for 2018.

“This country should never build a wall to keep people out,” Serrano said. “Should it deal with the immigration issue? Yes. But never, ever, ever build a wall. On the contrary, build another Statue of Liberty on the southern border. That’s our message to the world, that statue — not the wall.”

"And again, the wall would cost billions of dollars and be a waste of money," Serrano continued. "It will divide us. It will divide our country, our rhetoric, our comments, and that's what we will become."

Ira Mehlman, the media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), told LifeZette that Serrano's "grandstanding" indicates that the congressman doesn't understand the true nature of the Statue of Liberty's symbolism.

"It seems to be a case of a bit of grandstanding here. But you know, I think the more important point is that he clearly — even though he represents an area that's right near the Statue of Liberty — has no idea what the Statue of Liberty is all about," Mehlman said.

Noting that the Statue of Liberty has "really nothing to do with immigration," Mehlman pointed to its history. France offered it as a gift to the U.S. in 1886, and it now stands on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. The French meant to honor the U.S. as "a nation that is governed by laws" that represents "liberty and enlightening the world," Mehlman said.

But many illegal immigrants' rights advocates point to the text from the poem, "The New Colossus," written by American poet Emma Lazarus, which is engraved upon a bronze plaque and is now included inside the Statue of Liberty's lower pedestal. The poem's oft-quoted lines read, "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!"

"And somehow this has co-opted the whole symbolism of what the Statue of Liberty was really about," Mehlman said of the poem. "It was about liberty and enlightening the world. It was meant to sort of be a symbol to the rest of the world that if you conduct yourself in a manner similar to the United States, that you can have the same sort of enlightened society."

Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, told LifeZette in an email that Serrano's "silly" comments do nothing to enrich the national conversation and only serve to be counterproductive.

"It would be more constructive if he would join the responsible conversation about how to restore the integrity of our legal immigration system so that it serves our national interest and no longer causes problems for Americans and legal immigrants working toward their American dreams," Vaughan said.

She added: "The Statue of Liberty is a beautiful monument to liberty. It has become a symbol of our generous legal immigration system too, but we don't make policy based on symbolism; we should make policy based on facts and a clear-eyed assessment of the costs and benefits of policies."

Vaughan quipped, however, that "a copy of the beautiful Statue of Liberty on the southern border could serve as an inspiration to the Mexican people to work for the reforms to their country that would make people want to stay in Mexico — but the Mexican people might not take it that way."

Mehlman said Democrats and liberals often draw the national conversation away from national security and the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws with inflamed rhetoric and by conflating legal and illegal immigration.

"That's been going on a long time, the blurring of the distinction between legal immigration and illegal immigration. That's nothing new. They're just becoming a little bit less circumspect about how they go about it," he said. "We've seen this going on for a long time in the way that … they have tried to manipulate the language of the discussion."

"We've gone from a clear legal definition of illegal alien to all sorts of euphemisms that are meant to mask the fact that the people we're talking about are violating U.S. immigration laws," Mehlman added. "And [the Democrats] also don't seem to recognize the reason we have immigration laws in the first place, which is not because we want to be mean and keep people out."

"And they seem to have completely lost sight of that — they don't seem to grasp ... that the primary constituency for U.S. immigration laws is the American people," he continued.

The Republicans seem to be on the losing side of the messaging war because its leaders have "not made much of an effort to make the case for why we need border security and why we need to reinforce our laws against illegal immigration," Mehlman said. "And that's been true for quite some time." (go to page 2 to continue reading)

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