November 17th, 2015

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your #SyrianRefugees

Statue of LibertyI hate to go so wildly off-topic to venture into the world of politics, but when something happens that is so fundamentally at odds with our nation’s founding principles, it’s hard to silence my keyboard.

I woke today to find that, in the wake of the attack in Paris, a number of Governors are trying to keep Syrian refugees out of their states, apparently out of fear that a terrorist or two might slip through the tens of thousands of desperate souls seeking freedom:

After the terror attacks in Paris that killed at least 129 people, the placement of refugees fleeing Syria has come under scrutiny as at least 18 governors — mostly Republicans — have said they do not want the refugees in their state.

So this is a good time for them to re-read The New Colossus, that being the extraordinary Emma Lazarus poem that they learned about in grade school that sits affixed to the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor — a statue that was a gift from France.

And it is a reminder to those governors that this is a city of a thousand cities, and this is a nation of a thousand nations, and that the vast diversity of our citizenry is what makes us stronger, not weaker.

If ever there was a group of “wretched refuse,” homeless and tempest-tost, it is the refugees of a war that has already claimed over 200,000 lives:

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!”


July 17th, 2012

Taking the Oath

While I was away on vacation, something happened to a friend of mine.

This friend came to our shores over 10 years ago. Her documentation was not, shall we say, in order. Many keyboards have been pounded in other corners of the internet on such immigrants.

She came here to work and make a better life for her family. She babysat, cleaned homes and worked as a nanny. A very, very, good nanny. So good, in fact, that one family offered to sponsor her for labor certification, a first step down the road to green card status. And bank accounts, social security number, driver’s license, and the ability to leave this country to visit family and safely return here. She would no longer be in the shadows.

And she said something to me many years ago that no one had ever said before, when I told her that she would have to pay taxes if she became “official” and went on the books. She said, “But I want to pay taxes.” She knew, perhaps better than those who were born here and take citizenship for granted, what it means to be a member of a society.

About a week ago she paid a visit to Federal Plaza in New York. At this great big building new citizens are born. The time had finally arrived to pledge allegiance to the United States. Not because a teacher in a classroom told her to stand with the rest of the class, look at a flag and robotically recite a pledge. School children can’t possibly understand the significance of those words, unless perhaps, they are war refugees who know what the other side of the fence looks like.

My friend pledged her allegiance, promising to “protect and defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” because it meant something to her. She will vote for the first time this November. She takes her place beside you and I, with the sole door closed to her being that of the presidency. All others are open.

I thought about including her name in this short piece, and my association with her. But it occurs to me that while her story is unique, it has played out in countless other iterations over the generations in so many other places.

I’m two weeks late with an Independence Day post. But I think this will suffice.

And I hope that, perhaps, my dear readers will spend an extra moment or two when encountering an immigrant, thinking about what their stories might tell.