Letter to the Editor | June 2019 | Letters to the Editor | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Letter to the Editor | June 2019 

Let America Be America Again

Last Updated: 06/03/2019 4:24 pm

To the Editor:

Eleni Brown's harsh attack on Luis Martinez's story in the April issue is titled "The Law Is the Law." Whatever her feelings of outrage that Mr. Martinez failed "to pay his dues," the fact is that he did pay them in accord with the 2000 U Visa program. He wasn't trying to get into Disneyland without paying, as she derisively claims.

Ms. Brown herself may be in some kind of perverse Disneyland. The U Visa program, as the New York Times reported (5/15/19), "offers undocumented immigrants temporary legal residency and a path to American citizenship if they cooperate with law enforcement officials after being a victim or a witness to violent crimes." Mr. Martinez did just that after witnessing the death of his younger brother, Jesus, by a street gang in Newburgh in 1999. He became eligible for the visa in 2000 but learned of it only later and applied then. Under the current administration, ICE is picking up everyone it can regardless of pending asylum cases and appeals, in its war on immigrants. Luis is such a victim now.

The US has a long history of nativist attacks on immigrants, beginning with the Irish and Germans in mid-19th century; the Chinese, who built the trans-continental railway, in 1882 with the Chinese Exclusion Act; and after 1890 refugees from the Russian Pale, Southern Italy, Greece, and Africa, leading to the Immigration Act of 1924, drastically reducing the quota of immigrants from those countries. Only in 1965 did the Immigration and Naturalization Act lift the quotas and give priority to reuniting families and attracting skilled labor. This history might seem odd, since the only native Americans are indigenous Indians. Those who made the laws were either settlers or immigrants themselves.

What this brings to mind is not shrill obeisance to "the law" but rather this stanza from Langston Hughes' "Let America Be America Again":

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")
Say who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from his land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek-
And finding only the same old stupid plan.
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I recommend that Ms. Brown contemplate a different view of patriotism and the "problem" of immigration.

—Steve Leberstein, Willow

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