We are all very well versed in Emma Lazarus’ famous quote
“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.”
This quote is powerful in the sense that it is fully accepting of all of those who need help and who might be considered from the lower rung of society. In other words, bring your undesirables, the ones you throw out and do not want, they will be given a chance here. That is why, it is with great horror that I observe, as an inhabitant of this sphere we call Earth, the needs of those refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq.
These refugees face death, disease, homelessness, and a fear of being sent back to the places from which they fled. The nations of this world have an obligation to not only shelter them but to welcome them and provide as much normalcy as is humanly possible. These are human beings, the same as each of us, and to see the body of a very young child washed up on a beach is horrendous. To see Hungary treat immigrants in a way reminiscent of the way Jews were treated during the Holocaust is a shonda (Yiddish for sin).
So far, there have been reported cases of Syrian refugees being placed on trains after being told they were being transported to Austria, but instead they were brought to refugee camps in Hungary. These camps are similar to the concentration camps of the Nazis. In a recent interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann was harshly critical of those decisions. He said putting people in a train who believed they were going somewhere else awoke memories of the darkest time in Europe’s history, a reference to Nazi deportations of Jews during World War II. Too many nations are not taking the refugees in and when they do, political parties as well as the media instills fear and calls for action against those immigrants. This is no different from the Jews on the St. Louis who were attempting to flee the Holocaust.
On May 13, 1939, the German transatlantic liner St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany, for Havana, Cuba. On the voyage were 937 passengers, almost all were Jews fleeing from the Third Reich. Most were German citizens, some were from eastern Europe, and a few were officially “stateless”. The majority of the Jewish passengers had applied for U.S. visas and had planned to stay in Cuba only until they could enter the United States. When the ship reached Cuba it was turned away because they did not want the refugees. The Captain of the St. Louis asked the United States to accept the refugees but even they refused to accept those “huddled masses”. The right wing in both Cuba and the United States successfully blocked asylum for those refugees.
Most were returned to death in Europe and this is very similar to what is going on in Europe right now and the political scapegoating here in the United States by several candidates for President here in our country. All nations have an obligation to help each other in some form, every single one of us. The United States needs to take in more than the 10,000 refugees the President is now advocating.
“This is not leadership, it is barely a token contribution given the size and scale of the global emergency,” said Eleanor Acer, Director of the Refugee Protection Program for U.S.-based Human Rights First. It is understandable that security concerns are of priority, however, we have a moral obligation.
There are ways to screen and track those who are admitted. As Sarah Wildman said in a an editorial in Forward, “The last time Europe saw a crisis like this, it was our families on those ships and streets and trains.”
It is frightening to hear the words of Donald Trump and others vilifying Mexicans as rapists, murderers, and criminals. It is horrible to hear wishes to build a wall to keep immigrants out. It is bigotry and stereotyping for Mr. Trump to mimic Asians. It is horrible to hear Mr. Trump and others refer to the children of immigrants as “anchor babies”. I wonder how many of our forebears arrived at Ellis Island pregnant so that their child would be born free.
This is not the first time in the history of our nation that huddled masses were unwanted on our shores and that bigotry overcame what this nation was supposed to stand for. The Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of immigrants allowed entry into the United States through a national origins quota. The quota provided immigration visas to two percent of the total number of people of each nationality in the United States as of the 1890 national census. It limited those from Eastern Europe like Italians, Irish, and Eastern European Jews who were targeted for exclusion. Also, it completely excluded immigrants from Asia.
Many of you may recall my column from last October where I stated my personal memory of discrimination and stereotypes directed against Italians. Please feel free to read about the great writer Sal Lombino who faced the discrimination as an Italian in the 1950s that many are facing today based on being Latino.
We need to accept the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.