Ollie Gratzinger | Opinions Editor
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
These words, iconic and once defining of a nation, were penned by Emma Lazarus in 1883. Then, 20 years later, they were mounted on the Statue of Liberty as part of a poem called “The New Colossus,” which paints that statue as a “Mother of Exiles,” and the land she oversees — America — as a proud country of immigrants.
Now, 135 years after the poem was written and 115 years after it became part of a American symbol, its message has been lost. Every day, there’s a new headline telling of the horrors being committed at our borders: Families torn apart, separated children shoved into “tent camps” spanning the lonely, sweltering land of rural Texas, with blame being kicked around like a football from political party to political party.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary, blames Democrats for their inflexibility and pre-existing policies, which is flagrantly false. There was no law that required this. Crossing the border was a misdemeanor offence before a new Trumpian policy called for the prosecution and forced separation of families, even those who go through all the proper legal steps to enter the United States.
Likewise, though, Democrats blame Republicans for their lack of empathy, but this isn’t a partisan issue. Real children are being subjected to real horrors and real lawmakers are using them as bargaining chips in the grand game of politics.
The families crossing the border aren’t the violent criminals, here. According to the Migration Policy Institute, less than eight percent of unauthorized individuals in the United States have ever been convicted of a crime. Less than three percent have committed felonies. Trump’s fear mongering over the notoriously violent MS-13 gang is also blown out of proportion. The Justice Department estimates that less than one percent of all gang members in the United States are affiliated with MS-13, which, originating in Los Angeles, is realistically as American as Kim Kardashian and Paramount Pictures.
No, the criminals are not those coming into America. Rather, the criminals are the politicians who sit in their expensive offices and do nothing while children are being ripped from their parents’ arms. Donald Trump is the real criminal, here. He claims to hate the forced separation policy, and he claims that he’s only doing it because it’ll push Democrats into agreeing to build a wall. But even if that’s true, it’s just as vile that he sees traumatized, weeping people as a means to a political end. He has the power to make it stop, and he doesn’t. There are no excuses for that.
We were once the land of opportunity, where folks from around the world could come for asylum, for a future or for a second chance at something great. The truth is it was never perfect; racism and classism and all the other historical -isms and -phobias were experienced in no shortage, but nevertheless, almost every white person in this country is the descendant of the tired, poor, huddled masses that came here because they yearned to breathe free.
In the 19th century, when Irish immigrants came to America in the wake of famine, they were accused to being criminals, job-stealers and rapists. Italian immigrants were pegged as gangsters and labor agitators in the 20th century, and now in the modern age, those titles are being forced upon Mexican immigrants at the southern border by the same people whose families endured them in ages past.
We can be better than this. America is not made of brick walls adorned with pictures of and quotes from Donald Trump — yes, that’s a real thing in a Texas shelter for separated children. America is made of immigrants. If Trump really wanted to America great again, he would see that immigrants have always been the people who made it the best.
Hug your loved ones close, tonight. Times are hard, but this is not the end. Things can improve as long as we don’t accept totalitarianism and bigotry as the new normal.
What can we do to help?
Sign the petition on change.org, urging the Department of Homeland Security to put an end to forced separation.
Call your elected officials! The linked website will route your call to your local representative, and it has a prompt that you can read off of if you’re unsure what to say.
Donate, if you can, to a reputable charity or organization which aims to help displaced peoples, separated families or immigrants seeking asylum.
Kids in Need of Defense, or KIND, makes sure that children don’t go unrepresented when they have to appear in immigration court.
Pueblo Sin Fronteras provides humanitarian aid and temporary shelter to folks on their way to the United States.
International Refugee Assistance Project organizes law students and professional lawyers to develop and establish policies that will protect refugees and other displaced persons.
The Florence Project offers free legal services to people in immigration custody.
Asylum Seeker Advocacy Program is working hard to keep families together.
Together Rising Love Flash Mob aims to reunite separated families while also providing support for the children in detention centers.
The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights works to protect displaced children.