Here’s how we build the wall without asking Americans for $5 billion: Dismantle the Statue of Liberty and melt it down into steel slats. Scrap it as swiftly and surely as we’ve scrapped what it stands for. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Really?

What ever were we thinking? We may as well invite a snake to our dinner table, our president says. Charity is all well and good, but let’s be real.

The welcome mat must go. We need a wall. And a notice to would-be immigrants that trespassers will be shot.

In all seriousness, in these times it’s difficult to imagine an America that was once so idealistic.

Slavery had just been abolished, the war was over, and a vast, open America welcomed newcomers. Come on in! Bring your talents and your ambition and your desire to work! Anything is possible! It was a time when our collective hope was hitched to something more grand than a take-no-prisoners pursuit of money. When we believed in something that filled us with pride, that made our hearts swell.

In the shadow of our failed attempt to “make” Mexico pay for a wall, let’s remember that the Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French people to the people of the U.S. in honor of our recent achievements. But it was also a joint project meant, at least in part, to inspire the people of France to perhaps embrace their own democracy . France would design and pay for the statue and the U.S. would build the pedestal and provide the site.

How was the pedestal paid for? By the people, in dribs and drabs. The publication of the iconic poem now inscribed at the base of the statue brought in some early money. But after New York and then Congress vetoed bills to pay for it, a fundraising drive launched by a newspaper brought in 120,000 individual donations, most of which were less than a dollar. The statue was dedicated on an October afternoon in 1886 — a 305-foot towering Goddess of Liberty. The American people had done their part to make it happen, motivated by pride and a sense of possibility.

What awaits American hopefuls today? No lighted torch, but a minority of frightened, vocal citizens, a fear-mongering president and a spineless Congress, all of whom must believe that our Central American friends are, at best, losers in the country-of-birth lottery out to steal our winning tickets. Or that they are, at worst, not fleeing violence, but attempting to export it.

The neighbors showing up at our door are doing what any sane people fleeing insane circumstances would do. They are leaving a place that is uninhabitable, that is, a place where they cannot make a living and where their lives are threatened by violence. Undertaking a journey of thousands of miles on foot, not knowing where their next meal will come from, sleeping in fields. Saying, perhaps, a short prayer before they lay their heads down that a new life in that shining country up north might be possible for them, too. That the dream lives.

For better or for worse, America still leads by example. Please, let’s not have a wall be our new message to the world. We must fix the problem at the source. We must help to make these countries livable. Otherwise, the trickle becomes a flood that no wall or policy change will be adequate to address.

Elizabeth Flint lives in Tucson.