Lest We Forget We Are Immigrants

Herb Dempsey

The record is clear. Wave after wave of refugees from persecution fled to a better life year after year. They landed on the shores of what the map now calls North America starting from time before 1776, when they settled in places like Roanoke and New England. Many who study history know of the Irish, Italians and the Cubans. We even have a giant lady holding a torch at the mouth of the New York Harbor. But now, in a small minded panic, and based on narrow-minded politics, it looks as though we may be about to throw away a huge portion of our history, that we are all immigrants or descended from immigrants, except for the tribes that inhabited this land before the rest of us. Our Declaration of Independence included a grievance seven: "He [the King] has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners;" Even our Constitution can be interpreted as valuing immigration.

The politics of extreme fundamentalism have been accepted by the decision makers in Washington, D.C., ever since the Twin Towers were hit by airliners on 911. Once again many of the same individuals panic and vote to ignore a fundamental principle of our country.

Why are they targeting Muslims in general and Syrian refugees in particular? I note, perhaps cynically, that many of the terrorists who flew the airliners into the Towers were Saudi and there was no national  outcry against that “caliphate” even though draconian fanatics seem to set the standards that run rampant there.

Now we stand about to re-incinerate the notion of freedom by erasing one of our most fundamental values: respect for those that came. We forgot this value, when we interred the Japanese Americans in the cattle barns at the Puyallup fairgrounds as we collected them at the county level and until we shipped them to Minidoka War Relocation Center located in the remote high desert just north of Eden, Idaho.

And some hate a president that wants to welcome immigrants and provide everyone healthcare and normalize relations with our close neighbors in Cuba.  

Jay Inslee, our governor, wrote a piece in the New York Times with the title Why My State Won't Close Its Doors to Syrian Refugees. I agree with him. Have we forgotten the words Emma Lazarus wrote cast into the statue’s base in New York Harbor? I think we should read them again, because the Congress and the number of easily panicked political fear-mongers and demagogues have decided that a fundamental value of this country is no longer important. 

The New Colossus

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!"

-Emma Lazarus

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