Friday , July 19 2024
Statue of Liberty

Asylum-Seeking Refugee Children Placed in Camps, Lady Liberty Weeps

My mother came to this country at the age of six, braving a long steerage boat trip by herself to find the “Goldene Medina.” Her parents had come before her, and landing at Ellis Island, she came through the golden door of the country to find her way.

An unaccompanied minor, she spoke no English. At Ellis Island, she was greeted by the Statue of Liberty, France’s gift to the United States, a symbol of the exceptionalism of our country–a land based on creed, not religion, not ethnicity. A melting pot of languages, skin tone, cultural quirks, and no common thread other than they wished to escape from oppression, discrimination, poverty to make a new life. I shudder to think of what she might have suffered now, had she come through the Southern door, speaking no English, unaccompanied.

At the base of the Statue of Liberty is Emma Lazarus’s beautiful poem–a sonnet to what we, as America and Americans, stand for.

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!”
I am sickened as I read and experience the growing nationalism of this country, this “mother of exiles,” exemplified by windowless detention camps filled to capacity with children ripped from their parents at the “golden door” of our Southern border. The parents are escaping the horrors of poverty in Central American countries, seeking nothing but to ask asylum from brutal dictatorial governments.
“Give me your tired, your poor,” rings hollow today. Trump’s America does not want the tired and poor, the refugees fleeing from oppression (except if they’re white Europeans, that is…well, maybe not Canadians, these days). “Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free?” No way. If you try, you’ll be thrown in a federal prison, no matter if you’re claiming sanctuary as a refugee or just hoping for a new, better life. “The wretched refuse of your teeming shore?” Doesn’t matter that refugees, immigrants, people who had no education, spoke no English built this country, stay away. “You shall not pass!”
American exceptionalism, what has always (at least in theory) made America great is that all required to join the “club” was to promise to work hard an make a better life for your kids and grandkids while participating in the grand experiment of a place where your background or national origin matters less than your industriousness and drive. (Yes, I’m aware that this country has always possessed a deep streak of racism that has bubbled to the surface too many times.)
We must respond to this growing nativism, tribalism, nationalism, before it is too late to go back. Right now “they’re” after people crossing the Southern border, but who’s next? How long before it’s anyone who disagrees with the direction Donald Trump wants America “to be great again?”
I’m alarmed by the tweet from the head of the Republican Party:

She’s right about one thing. Complacency IS our enemy. The only way to fight this is with our voices, our actions, and our feet. But the most important way is in November at the ballot box. We cannot afford to abrogate our solemn duty to rid our country of the most dangerous, ignorant, autocratic-leaning, anti-American president in our history!

About Barbara Barnett

A Jewish mother and (young 🙃) grandmother, Barbara Barnett is an author and professional Hazzan (Cantor). A member of the Conservative Movement's Cantors Assembly and the Jewish Renewal movement's clergy association OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement. In her other life, she is a critically acclaimed fantasy/science fiction author as well as the author of a non-fiction exploration of the TV series House, M.D. and contributor to the book Spiritual Pregnancy. She Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (

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