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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Not many have read the full poem that graces the bottom of our own modern day version of Colossus. This mentality has shaped what has been known as the melting pot country for generations. The beacon has given hope to those who have lost everything, and yet, in this time of crisis what we see is a human shield rather than an outstretched hand. One of the more absurd questions asked was how could President Obama allow us to take in refugees when we have so many homeless Veterans? A) one has nothing to do with another. B) President Obama has been responsible for pushing a ending homelessness initiative for our Veterans that have resulted in a decrease of roughly 65% since 2008. The housing first, expansion of these programs might be the largest initiative of keeping veterans off the streets since the introduction of the GI bill and housing following WWI and WWII. And finally, perhaps most importantly C) It still speaks to US as a society that we allow our nation to have so many in need without those willing to help. Instead of seeing a person in need of help and doing something we first ask “are they worthy?”
It’s been sickening to see the responses from fellow Americans regarding refugees. It’s been disheartening to know that these people are the same ones who cry outrage over President Obama’s decisions to allow access to our shores while so many here have trouble while having no outrage that the current congress has cut budgets to almost every program that would have previously been helping those Americans you are now so concerned for. There’s an allotment of 75,000 available spots for refugees within our country, and from Syria we have taken 1,500 only, most of which in the past year. Pennies compared to many other nations, a drop in the bucket to those crowded in prisons and camps awaiting help from what was almost certain death. Forget the Geneva convention and the international statue of refugees. Forget that international human rights disallows us to discriminate over race, religion, or ethnicity or how they entered a country as a refugee. It doesn’t matter to most that in most cases, more than 50% of these refugees are under the age of 17. It should, it means that we have a better chance of making sure these young children don’t see extremism as their only way out. It is not religious extremism which causes violence, but non-negotiable beliefs paired with peer influence and a history of oppression. These individuals are the most at risk and have the most to gain. We don’t see it as such because we don’t see it here. By not doing anything the only assurance we’re offering is new generations who know the western world turned their back on them. But what if we did see it hitting closer to home? For those who have ever done the “year in seconds” app, take a look at this and try to understand how things can change for individuals in an instant.
If these refugees were the Irish following their IRA civil war this conversation wouldn’t exist in the U.S. In fact, we were heavily supporting them, most of their funds were derived from Boston(sorry Boston, I love their accents too). Because the fear that the nation has isn’t based on any factual evidence of potential terror threats, it’s based on sameness. And you’re right, they’re not us, whoever us is; they’re fleeing oppression and almost certain death while we flee the oppression of a red Starbucks cup ruining Christmas as an asinine “War on Christmas.” What most people won’t say is “well they’re not white” “not Christian.” Because there was no “I stand with Beirut” and no option to put the Kenyan flag filter over your profile picture. Because most didn’t want to know and well…they’re different. Because we have begun to believe in that fear. Not until the children’s bodies began washing up on shores did the public cry outrage…from afar. We want assurances that none of these individuals running from their homes, with nothing are not a part of a potential threat. At what point in any situation do we have assurances? Out of the millions at risk we can estimate .05% may be a potential security threat? So we doom the rest? Security measures following 9/11 have been deemed almost universally useless through third party testing. It’s the thought of it that makes us secure. How to you assure that those with nothing mean you no harm? What guidelines do you put into place that doesn’t go directly against the Geneva Convention of 1951? We have groups of hate led religious groups such as WBC throwing their weight around claiming hate as their weapon for their god. We live in a country where there is more fear walking into a school, movie theater, or a mall than a large terrorist threat . There is more fear of gun violence, murder, or rape than a different colored skin neighbor leading a war on your way of life. I’d like assurances there, that I will never be one of the 1 in 4 women in this country won’t experience rape or sexual assault, but that would be impossible to safe guard against because there’s no surefire screen I can do.
If you think this is the first time our nation has turned its back remember the unanimous decision to halt Jews fleeing Nazi Germany because “Jews are different and should be restricted.” Only 10% of our nations quota was filled because of the anti-Semitic beliefs. How many died as a result? Prior to the “Final Solution” Germany tried to just move Jews out of the country, but no one wanted them. Never do I want to be on the end of history saying “I could have saved more.” After the ethnic cleansing of Yugoslavia, and the mass genocides of Rwanda we saw little change in attitude. We act as the police of the world, forgetting that our actions had a direct result on the current state of affairs. Now we want assurances of safety after offering next to none to others. What will our version of Schindler’s list look like?
You don’t want refugees here? Take down the statue of liberty. You don’t want this country to act as the refuge for those unwanted, oppressed, and different? Remember where we started from. You want to hide behind the fear of refugees because they must be terrorists, ask yourself why would they risk everything to flee? And then ask yourself if you’d feel the same way if these refugees were from France, or Ireland, or New Jersey and then tell me that your reasons have nothing to do with who they are and the religion they hold. Ask yourself if the media you’re watching is telling you to believe there is a danger to you when it is them dying in the streets. Are we a beacon of light shining the way to safety? Or has the Mother of Exiles turned and shut her eyes to the world, more comfortable with her Christmas Latte in a holiday appropriate mug?
“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” – Voltaire