In a recent interview on public television (PBS), Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said, “We have always expected people to stand on their own two feet and to be self-sufficient.” He also said that American tradition backed him up.

Funny how the bootstrap theory that Cuccinelli is pushing will now go into effect prior to, rather than after an immigrant enters our country. What Cuccinelli – whose parents are of Italian and Irish descent – would have us believe is that, traditionally, we really didn’t want tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Cuccinelli’s “New Bootstrap Theory” means “them that’s got, shall get ... and them that’s not, shall lose.”

Even if some people don’t care for history, one might think that, at the very least, they would want to know how their own ancestors got here. They might even start asking questions. A friend told me that his Swedish ancestors were so poor when they came to America, they packed mud over their feet to make it look like they were wearing boots. Literally, they were “standing on their own two feet.”

One of my ancestors emigrated from Germany in the 1840s at a time when Europe was experiencing a potato famine. She was listed in the U.S. Census as a “servant girl.” Like other indentured servants, she couldn’t afford to pay her fare, but agreed to work off her passage after arrival.

Cuccinelli would have been more accurate had he said that U.S. immigration tradition is preferential toward Anglo-Saxons. When Congress passed acts restricting U.S. immigration, it often stemmed from a fear that some people might spoil the “homogeneity” of the population. At times, that meant no Catholics and Jews. At other times, it applied to the Chinese, Irish, Italians or Poles. I remember when we were afraid of too many Vietnamese, and in recent American history, the searchlight shines on those of Mexican, Middle Eastern and African descent.

Cuccinelli needs to take a basic American history course before trying to defend the current administration’s new bootstrap theory.

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