They’re coming by the thousands, mothers with their infants and children, teenagers, grown men and women. They’re fleeing countries without hope or opportunity. They’ve been told by their governments that if they make it to the United States, they can stay.
They may never pass through Ellis Island, may never see the mother that stands watch over us all, yet, the United States has always been the place of refuge for those who could not find rest or freedom in their homeland.
Since the beginning, we’ve been home to the fugitives and the rebels, to the ones who dared to dream of freedom, of something better, something greater than had ever been lived or seen.
We’ve always been the anti-establishment, the critics of What Is, hoping for What Could Be.
There is no shortage of opinion on how to respond, and for the record, I don’t believe in amnesty-for-all at the borders. I believe in compassion, but I also believe in order. But order is usually not an option in crisis.
So here we are, receiving the poor and huddled masses to our shores, exactly as we’ve called for since the dawning of our nation. Since even before Emma Lazarus penned her stop-in-your-tracks, beautiful poem, inscribed into stone beneath Lady Liberty.
And yet as they come at such an exponential rate, we find that we cannot keep up with the heartbreak of the world.
I resonate deeply with the Ellis Island poem. These words encapsulate the American spirit, and even my own soul: a woman on the front porch with the light on, waiting up for the broken, wounded hearts and bodies of the world.
That’s us. That’s you. That’s me. These words are what it means to be American. Not selfish. Not arrogant. Not elitist, as we’ve allowed ourselves to be portrayed or become. But open-hearted toward the ones who could as easily be me or you, war-torn, busted up, terrified.
My heart is breaking for the tired souls crashing into our borders in surrender. There are so many of them. It’s overwhelming.
So when we complain about the problems at the border, I know we can’t open the gates for just anyone, for the drug dealers and war lords. But I know the children and the mamas came all this way, and I know they’re the ones we want. They’re the ones we’ve been opening our hearts to since the beginning.
If Miss Lazarus speaks for us all, then we must decide what to do with the poorest among us, the ones who surrender at our doorstep by the thousands, the ones who long to be cared for, nurtured back to health, given a chance at a real life.
Strange as it seems, as we are such a mess here in the States, we still offer these things, a refuge, a hideaway, a start-over. And for much of the world, this is not just what they want; it’s the only the thing they need.
Lady Liberty’s voice resounding over the seas sounds more to me like the Holy Spirit, calling out in wisdom and compassion for any who would listen. Her lamp of justice and mercy extends to us all, no matter our national or ethnic origin.
We are all the undeserving recipients of her grace.
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!”