Reality star and Donald Trump lunch partner Sarah Palin paid a visit to Ellis Island last week, but most of the headlines you read were about Palin flubbing the story of Paul Revere at a previous (campaign?) stop in Boston.
Palin said that during the build-up to the American Revolutionary War against England, Revere’s famous midnight ride "warned ... the British that they weren't going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells."
Historians subsequently noted that Revere actually had to remain as quiet as possible, as opposed to making all sorts of noise to warn the Brits that Americans were -- among other things -- armed to the teeth.
But Revere-gate actually obscured a much more obvious problem with Palin bringing her “One Nation” tour to Ellis Island. Does she -- or the Tea Party, or the Republican Party, for that matter -- have anything interesting to say about immigration?
Ever since Annie Moore sailed from Cork into Ellis Island in 1892, Americans have been positively schizophrenic when it comes to immigration.
So, naturally, Palin had plenty of warm and fuzzy things to say about America’s legacy of immigration.
"I was struck by the many visitors from overseas who were drawn to this place, not merely for its aesthetic beauty but also as a symbol for freedom and liberty, " Palin wrote on her website, regarding her visit to Ellis Island.
At Ellis Island itself she acknowledged the "work ethic" and "love of country and freedom" previous generations of immigrants brought to the U.S.
But as Catalina Camia pointed out in USA Today, Palin “drew the line at supporting the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for some children who were illegally brought to the U.S. if they get an education or serve in the military.”
Palin later said (according to the web site Politico), "The immigrants of the past, they had to literally and figuratively stand in line to become U.S. citizens. I'd like to see that continue. And unfortunately, the DREAM Act kind of usurps that."
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This is at least as large a distortion of the past as Palin’s flubbing of the Paul Revere story.
What? Immigrants these days never stand in line? Or they’re willing to stand in figurative lines but not literal ones?
It should go without saying that while many past immigrants from Ireland and Italy and Germany and all those other places certainly had all of their paperwork in order, not all of them did.
Plenty of Irish folks -- who came into Castle Garden or Ellis Island or Texas or San Francisco, for that matter -- got very creative when it came to bypassing the authorities.
Some went up to Canada first, before sneaking over the border. Others simply lied.
As hard as it may seem to fathom, yes, there was illegal immigration in the past.
For people like Palin, it also seems hard to fathom that today’s immigrants can, in fact, hold the same hopes and dreams as past immigrants.
Yes, we must be vigilant in our battle against terrorism. Yes, we must enforce all existing immigration laws.
But if Palin is interested in running for higher office, she should have a better plan than simply opposing the DREAM Act.
It might have been interesting if someone had asked Palin, while she was at Ellis Island, her thoughts about the so-called Secure Communities proposal.
This week, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick followed in the footsteps of Illinois Governor (and Irish American) Pat Quinn, as well as Andrew Cuomo of New York, and pulled out of the Secure Communities program, which is overseen by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
As a former governor, it might have been interesting to hear what Palin had to say about this program. Does she support it?
Or, as critics have charged, does it lead to immigrants (undocumented or otherwise) clamming up when they are witnesses to serious crimes?
Massachusetts secretary of public safety and security, Mary Elizabeth Heffernan, said as much in her letter informing ICE that Massachusetts would not be participating in Secure Communities.
“We are reluctant to participate if the program is mandatory and unwilling to participate if it is voluntary,” she
If Palin really wants to talk about immigration in America, than she’ll need more than nostalgia about a past that never was.
(Contact “Sidewalks” at email@example.com or facebook.com/tomdeignan)