Preserving Our Colossus For Refugees

The Statue of Liberty was placed in the New York harbor as a welcoming beacon to immigrants arriving for processing at Ellis Island and became an important symbol of the American Dream throughout the world.  Emma Lazarus, a Jewish-American woman involved with helping poor Jewish refugees, wrote the famous poem engraved on its pedestal called “The New Colossus:”  This work is a part of our national identity, but its essence is at risk due to intended refugee policies announced by President Trump.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

As a young girl, I believed my teachers when they told me that the United States was unlike any other nation because it welcomed everyone, and I cherished this ideal.  Over time I learned that the poem was mostly a myth.  Just one year before this poem was published in 1883, the United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and stopped Chinese immigration for nearly six decades.  That same year, we banned anyone likely to receive public assistance.  We specifically excluded paupers from immigrating in 1891.  In 1924, the United States outlawed immigration from Japan, and over a million U.S. citizens of Mexican heritage were forcibly returned to Mexico without due process during the Great Depression.  Because of what turned out to be unfounded fears, we interned Japanese-Americans during World War II.  We were also influenced by the racist eugenics movement and decided that certain nationalities were biologically better and more compatible with ours than others.  As a result, we gave preference to immigrants from white-skinned countries until 1965.  However, despite their tension with reality, we continue to honor the New Colossus poem and the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty concerning immigrants.

Refugees are one of the few groups allowed to enter the United States that match the description of immigrants written on our Statue of Liberty.  Having lost everything, they can come here with nothing.  They can receive public assistance for a certain period of time.  They are welcome even though they are hated in their own lands.  Now, however, we are faced with the prospect of a “No Muslim” policy in the Trump Administration that applies even to refugees, even though over half of all refugees originate from Muslim countries and we are currently experiencing the highest number of displaced persons ever recorded.  http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html.  Refugees are now regarded by our government and many other Americans as particularly dangerous, either because of their religion or where the person was born, and this notion persists regardless of the fact that our security procedures are tougher on refugees than any other category of persons coming to the United States.  For more information, see https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2015/11/20/infographic-screening-process-refugee-entry-united-states.  Others complain about the limited costs of supporting refugees.  For refugee economic facts, see http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/ten-facts-about-us-refugee-resettlement?gclid=Cj0KEQiAzZHEBRD0ivi9_pDzgYMBEiQAtvxt-Oea8TJRzB9EHaK1JAQheOpuJdW8Ao34fDlJvLHwdqgaAoFT8P8HAQ.  We need our immigration policy to be driven by facts, not fear.

A colossus is defined as a statue that is larger than life, or a person or thing of enormous size, importance, or ability.  It is a very fitting word for our precious Statue of Liberty, which represents our  great American openness and spirit toward immigrants.  The words written on the colossus are equally powerful, but only to the extent they are true.  We discard this distinctive policy toward “the wretched refuse of teeming shore” at the risk of our American soul.

 

 

 

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