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America, America, God sheds His tears on thee
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May first.  This year, a beautiful Saturday, filling the parks in near - 80% sunshine, opening the curtains to Mother’s Day, ushering in (for Catholics) the month of Mary on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, and marking the international day of laborers.  Today, also, millions of immigrants across the country will march on behalf of immigration reform.  Their banners and slogans, though, will be darkened by last Friday’s new law in Arizona.

Oops. I guess May won’t arrive so peacefully, after all.  Those colored feet pounding pavement will carry hearts full of frustration and make public voices of protest.  Five years ago, when I first was invited to bless the march here in Stockton, and then stood on the platform to address the thousands who had participated, the atmosphere was very, very different.  

I shared how grateful I’d been for the positive attitude of the marchers, by their effort to maintain unity and to keep the American flag front and center, by the fact that gang colors had yielded to multi-color displays of rich diversity, of complex heritage, of multiple cultural legacies, of the wealth Americans enjoy precisely because we are anything but inbred.

No, this year it will be different.  Since the march first took place here in Stockton, millions of families have seen the American dream crash and burn.  They’ve witnessed an increase in poverty, substance abuse, gang affiliation, and violent crime.  At the same time, police surveillance has intensified, with an escalating concentration on the undocumented alien.

Now, deportations are routine, with thousands more in proceedings. In California, 25,000 vehicles whose drivers are un-licensed (many of these due to immigration status) have been impounded, usually for a minimum of 30 days, at an overall cost to those drivers of over $40,000,000.00.

In my youth, we rejoiced in the “salad bowl” and the “melting pot” of American society.  We welcomed Southeast Asian refugees with open arms.  My mother volunteered for years in Seattle, helping to place several of these families, and even recently, at the age of 80, was able to visit one of them again in Merced.  By now, their children had all attended college.

California boasted one of the world’s most productive agricultural outputs and ranked among the strongest economies - much of this due to our inexpensive immigrant labor.  Trains travelled along railways built in terrible conditions by what amounted to Chinese slaves.  Other ethnicities flooded in and washed across the mountains and valleys of this golden state, with waves of populations whose blood, sweat, and tears fertilized our soil, raised up our cities, and powered our factories.  In fact, the only non-immigrants in California were ironically the ones who ended up with the smallest piece of the compensation-pie - the Native Americans.  Now that they’ve discovered the secret to recouping their losses, everyone’s up in arms.  Their casinos soak in billions, annually, from the millions of second, third, fourth and onwards-generation offspring of those immigrants who could have cared less what happened to native populations as they came looking for fortune and a better lot in life, tearing into the open land.

Now that our economy is failing, we blame it all on the latest groups to arrive.  I appreciate the statistics, and am reading the conservative blogs.  But I’m also speaking to the marchers today.  I don’t want to tell them how much of a drain they are on our economy, because ten years ago the same blogger had to admit the opposite.  For every dollar spent in assistance to illegals or in kicking them out, how many did we recover in lower wages?

Whatever the case, one thing is for sure: the Statue of Liberty is weeping.

For long decades, she had cried out to the entire world: “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-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”  I know this myself, as I stood there, humbled, before her magnificent figure, just four years ago.

I had jumped off my flight toward Yugoslavia, metroed to Manhattan, and made my way to Ellis Island.  But first, I had spent an hour at Ground Zero.

Strange. The horrendous, demonic attacks of 9/11 somehow never silenced the voice of the Statue.  She continued echoing Emma Lazarus’ 1883 poem.

Now that a relatively small handful of well-dressed, well-paid American citizens have managed, through highly sophisticated financial instruments, to undermine our nation’s banking system and destroy their own country’s economy, meanwhile escaping (for the most part) with their mansions, yachts, and bonuses intact, having been bailed out by taxpayers, the voice of Lady Liberty is no longer audible.  She is blindfolded, gagged, and has been turned into a surveillance station.  In place of her torch, I see an infra-red camera and what looks like a machine-gun turret.  But her tears keep on flowing, anyway, as she mourns for a nation that is fast losing its soul.

Fr. Dean McFalls, St. Mary’s Church, Stockton, Saturday, May 1, 2010