“Send these the homeless, tempest tossed, to me”

Have we, as a nation, forgotten the spirit of the poem by Emma Lazarus that adorns our beloved Statue of Liberty? This country has a history rich in human migration that has proved to be a crucial part of our social tapestry. Our culture is enriched by our diversity, not harmed by it.

Fear of the ‘other’ is an unbecoming trait to most Americans. Having spent nearly a quarter-century in local public high schools where more than a hundred nationalities are represented and dozens of languages spoken in the hallways, it was impossible to do more than sit with mouth agape upon hearing the Chief Executive’s latest cringe worthy observations about the nations-of-origin for the innumerable exemplary immigrants that have graced my classroom.

This is not to suggest that many parents lacked ample cause to flee their homelands. However, we would all do well to remember that many of those nations so recklessly disparaged by our President have endured centuries of occupation by the European colonial powers who ruthlessly pillaged the natural resources of those lands, subjected their peoples to servitude and attempted to erase their languages and cultures from history. America was all too frequently complicit.

A bit more compassion for refugees might be in order since, as reported by The Guardian, children as young as seven continue to toil in open pit-mines to furnish cobalt for our lithium batteries. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, subsistence wages, perilous conditions, extortion and intimidation are rampant according to Amnesty international. Would you accept such a fate for your children?  

As Nobel laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, once observed, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Human rights must be accorded to everyone, or you may not profess to believe that we are all equal.

Pick any geopolitical hotspot from the last three decades, and it might surprise you to discover the number of students that appeared on my class lists whose parents were seeking asylum. It might also surprise you how many of those children graduated from public school having obtained college credit in my Advanced Placement classes.

Every year, one composition was devoted to relating a life-altering event. Twice in my career, a student described the massacre of his/her native village. The young man had concealed himself in a haystack for days until he heard his uncle’s voice. The young woman was placed in a closet when the soldiers came, and later was spirited away to relatives in the United States. Somehow, both remained optimists and excelled in their studies.

Another young woman wrote an eloquent essay about the untimely death of her father. In dire straits, she came here to live with extended family. That essay was so perfectly executed –not a single missing agreement or ill-advised word choice — that the misty-eyed French teacher set aside the red pen for the only time in his career.

What can be said about the eldest of three brothers who, forced to flee a homeland rife with political corruption and ravaged by natural calamities, arrives in a new country and works nights to help support the family and turns in impeccably completed assignments by day while finishing off his requirements for a high school diploma? Well, for starters, our nation will be improved when he becomes a citizen.

The President has advocated for merit-based immigration and stoked the cauldrons of fear against Islam. His patently offensive generalizations about broad swaths of humanity speak for themselves and run counter to the American tradition of an open and egalitarian society. His reversal of Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) makes political pawns of thousands of Dreamers and suggests that American promises have no value.

The overwhelming majority of immigrants are seeking the American Dream of a better life for their children. Their children serve in our military and offer up their lives in gratitude for the opportunity to live under the Constitution. Since the turn of the century, 33 of 85 American recipients of a Nobel Prize have been immigrants.

America must never extinguish “the lamp beside the golden door”.  

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[A slightly reworked editorial piece from the Prince George’s Sentinel (01/18/2018)]

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