America has a problem with kids from other countries showing up on the borders expecting to be welcomed.

Don't those people have cell phones? How can they be so misinformed, in this new media age? Didn't they see the greeting the buses of illegal immigrants got in a dirty little town in California, with those good patriotic Americans showing teeth and spittle?


America doesn't want anyone who isn't already rich when they show up at customs. Not even if it's just to stop over long enough to get shipped out to somewhere else, preferably back where you came from. This, to those who are most vocal in their patriotism, is The American Way.

Frankly, I don't know why all those kids from Central America want to come here. Some say it's to escape violence in their home countries, but they must not have heard about the usual 100 shootings on a normal Saturday night in Chicago, let alone what the NRA has to say about how we should deal with a little inconvenience we have now and then with lawfully armed American citizens shooting up the occasional suburban schoolhouse.

Then they say it's because the economy there is so bad. Detroit knows about a bad economy; ask the folks in the neighborhoods. They'll tell you the economy is bad, but they have a good baseball team.

We have money for football and baseball arenas, but not for maintaining bridges. Bridges don't have fireworks after the game; unless, of course, a bridge collapses, sending the five o'clock rush hour into the drink. Then you have all the fireworks that finger-pointing public officials can spout on the cable news shout-fests.

Personally, I think the problems can be blamed on the French. They gave us this statue to put in the harbor of our gateway city. Then some sentimental, idealistic Americans came up with the notion that the world needed a country that gave anyone anywhere a second chance.

Most of us heard about the Statue of Liberty in elementary school. We learned that the inscription on the statue, erected in 1886, was, "Enlightening the World," and we learned at least part of the poem by Emma Lazarus, "New Colossus."

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse on your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

And between 1892 and 1924 more than 22.5 million people passed through Ellis Island.

Which was probably a mistake, according to today's devotees of an 1840s scab on American history called Nativism. Whether they know it or not, the rise of anti-immigration sentiment did not begin with the local branch of We the People, or others who sign their mail with "Yours in Patriotism."

The Nativists were opposed to immigration, particularly Irish Catholics, who they deemed a threat to real Christians like – well, they were called "know-nothings." From 1840 until in the late 1850s they infected American politics with the same kind of mindless zealotry and misrepresented patriotism that we see in our divided nation today.

The official name of the party – and they won some elections – was the "Order of The Star Spangled Banner." That was probably too much writing and too many syllables, so it was later shortened to "The American Party." Some members also belonged to the Ku Klux Klan.

The movement slid into the muck of irrelevancy because the country was still young enough, idealistic enough, and had a sense of justice and decency to hold on to the optimism of the original immigrants who founded a government based on ideals, not fear and ignorance.

Then, along came the French, filling our heads with romantic prattle and a poem that made millions weep – including servicemen returning on troop ships after two world wars – and generations of school kids whose innocence bought in to the words, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses ... "

I was just a kid when I first heard that story, but I remember feeling good about being an American.


But that was long ago, and I was just a kid, whose family was far from rich, devoid of status or power, and ambitious only for the opportunities to be explored freely.

I believed America was made for me. Silly kid.

Dean Minnich writes from Westminster. His column appears Thursdays. Email him at