One hundred and eleven years ago, Emma Lazarus had her sonnet placed permanently upon New York’s Statue of Liberty.
“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!”
Fast forward to 2014: “Go back to Mexico!” Without splitting hairs, I would like to kindly inform the protesters at America’s southern border that the immigrant children are actually Central American, and not Mexican.
Is this what America has become? A nation so xenophobic that we would actually send children back home only to be killed by ruthless drug gangs? This is not hyperbole. The murder rate in Honduras is 90 per 100,000 inhabitants.
America has been famously described by Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan as a “Shining City on a Hill”. The shine is gone, replaced by a worn out “Do Not Enter” sign with a chain linked fence.
To return Central American children to their native countries is to sentence them to death. America is supposed to be a country where children matter, where communities rally around the underdog. Why else do we send millions of dollars of aide to the poorest countries? Why do we get teary eyed when we see an American Soldier befriending a young Iraqi or Afghan child while out on patrol. These acts, these images are empty gestures if we turn our backs to our southern neighbors.
It is not good enough as a nation of immigrants to suddenly in the 21 st century turn our backs on the most desperate of refugees. I have heard the term refugee kicked around a lot on the news and talk shows lately. If a person comes to your country to seek safety because of imminent danger, they are a refugee.
I know the counter arguments for allowing these thousands of children legal status in the United States. It will encourage more parents to send their children: Maybe. Maybe curbing the violence caused by America’s thirst for drugs will help. “These children are uneducated, likely to join a gang and will need social services.” All these arguments were made against Italians, Irish and Eastern European Immigrants at the end of the 19 th Century and early 20 th century. Without these “early immigrants America wouldn’t even be recognizable today.
There are no easy answers. Yes America needs a border. Yes America cannot let the entire world in. Yes America needs major immigration reform. The answer is not to simply turn a blind eye to children who will be forced to join violent gangs or be slaughtered at home.
As a parent, one of the most difficult things I could ever do would be to send my kids up north without me. Imagine that for a second. You have just sent of your cherished to child to the unknown without you there to protect them. I would at least hope that when they got to the richest country that the world has ever known, that they would be treated kindly. I would certainly imagine America, with its abundant resources, stable government, and “folksy” citizens would be there for my kids in their moment of need. America certainly wouldn’t call my children little brown problems would they?
America, please listen to me. You are better than this. You always right your wrongs at some point. You fought a revolution, abolished slavery, enacted civil rights for all, passed clean water and air laws and brought millions of people into middle class. Have some empathy for your fellow human being.
It’s easy to say later in life “I was there for civil rights or women’s rights or gay rights.” Were you? Don’t be on the wrong side of history. If you are genuinely concerned about your state, write your member of congress. Tell them to pass immigration reform. Tell them to help Central and South America combat their drug cartels. Don’t be that guy blocking a bus full of scared children while holding a racist sign. Your grandchildren will see you on Google Images someday.