Keeping the faith with our fellow humans requires we assume certain fundamental values to be universal. Surely, for example, the greatest tragedy one could experience in life would be the loss of a child. Across the globe, millions are risking their lives and leaving everything they own or have ever known to save their children.
Adults and children are walking across deserts and entire countries, paying passage or stowing away on trains and vehicles, sleeping along roads or in woods or jungles, boarding boats filled many times over capacity, going hungry, living in filth and fear, and sometimes being sexually trafficked by those who overpower them. They endure these things to escape extreme violence, war, starvation, rape, drug gangs and even slavery. They leave behind their homes, elderly parents, farms, businesses, towns and countries not because they want to, but for a chance at survival. Some die in the effort. And, some make it to our doorstep.
In 1883, to help raise money for our nation's greatest symbol of freedom, the Statue of Liberty, Emma Lazarus wrote a simple poem. In so doing, she put into words the self-image most of us were taught to have about our country's noble purpose and direction, the inspiration to welcome and do unto others who land on these shores as was done for us or our ancestors, immigrants all (unless we are descended from Native Americans):
"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!"
History, of course, is hard to hide from. Not everyone has been welcome or free here, and the beacon of success, represented by this country's ideals, continues to draw more people than many are willing to accept. And yes, the numbers are staggering. An article titled "5 Numbers to Watch on Family Separations" on the PBS NewsHour site lists the statistics that are testing all aspects of our humanity.
Yet, the starkness of the current zero tolerance for those stepping across our border, through separation of parents from their children as some brutal deterrent, has caused many Americans to shudder for our nation. They recognize the cruelty, confusion, uncertainty and long-term damage adults and children are experiencing, and feel the horror that our country is capable of doing this to anyone. The mantra, "This is not who we are," is rapidly ringing hollow as harsh treatment continues to be perpetrated upon people whose only crime is desperation.
We need to keep in mind for our own possible futures, and in honor of our own ancestors' pasts, that seeking asylum is not against the law. But kidnapping is a crime, and our government has kidnapped over 2,500 children from their parents and scattered them all across the country without keeping decent records of who belongs to whom. This inexcusable travesty has left some parents not knowing where their children are, and children shaking and crying in fear, loneliness, and from the strangeness of people, language, and place -- truly kidnapped. A perspective on this is, "A Cautionary Tale: The U.S. Follows Hungary's Dangerous Path to Dismantling Asylum," at www.uusc.org.
Also, among several reports in ProPublica is, "Immigrant Shelters Drug Traumatized Teenagers Without Consent," which states, "Emotional distress and mental health issues are prevalent among these children, sometimes a result of traumatic experiences in their home countries, at other times triggered by being separated from parents at the border, or by fear that they will never be released from (Office of Refugee Resettlement) facilities."
This is who we are if we lose the soul of this country by not stopping this inhumanity being done in our name. We must find ways of investing in countries and in people to help them stay in their own homelands. Building a wall, no matter how tall, which can be tunneled under, flown over, or bypassed by sea will accomplish little and waste a lot. Estimates run anywhere between $12 and $70 billion, with $150 million annual maintenance. For nothing.
Writing and calling congressmen frequently is very important, but donating to refugee organizations and demonstrating are vital. On Fridays at noon in front of the Washington County Courthouse on College Avenue in Fayetteville, local Quakers joined by other groups and individuals plan to weekly demonstrate with signs to remind passersby that the children still need our voices and help.
We also need to redeem our honor and dignity.
Commentary on 07/24/2018
Print Headline: Barricading the 'golden door'