Since 1903, a poem has lain before the feet of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor that declares to the world that the United States will be a safe haven for the world’s neediest people: “Give me your tired, your poor/ your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
As historians we know that even as Emma Lazarus wrote those words, the United States was failing to live up to the promise, turning away hordes of those deemed bodily, mentally, and ethnically unfit. As a powerful Twitter account reminded us recently, we even turned away over six hundred European Jews fleeing from the unspeakable horrors of the Third Reich on the eve of World War II. We have failed in recent years to help anywhere near the number of refugees as countries like Germany, and have often dragged our feet to bring Iraqi and Afghan allies to safety. Our commitment to those lines etched at Lady Liberty’s feet has been anything but perfect. But despite the hypocrisies, the poem has become a touchstone for something that we believe deeply about our country: that we will be the safe place for those in need.
Many of us can look into our own family histories, or those of our friends, and see the realities of those words. Just among those on our editorial board here at Nursing Clio, lives have been directly affected by the United States’ commitment to offer a home for people running from war, famine, and terror. One of us is the descendant of a Chinese-American woman, allowed entry into the United States just a few years after the Chinese Exclusion Act was lifted. Another is related to a Japanese woman who, after surviving the fire bombings of Tokyo that killed her parents, was allowed to enter the United States only after extensive background checks, interviews, and a special act of Congress. Yet another’s ancestors narrowly escaped the Armenian genocide, among the last immigrants to arrive at Ellis Island before the Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924.
Many of us are here because the United States opened its arms – however haltingly – to welcome our ancestors.
This week, Donald Trump has, with a stroke of a pen, negated this central principle of the American way. Offering a safe place for those in need is not a partisan issue, it’s an American value.
So what can we do? Resist. Call your representatives. Show up when it’s time to protest. And donate to organizations that fight Islamophobia and fight for what is right, like Council on American-Islamic Relations, the National Immigration Law Center, and the ACLU. If you know of a resettlement or refugee aid organization, let us know in the comments. We can – and we will – fight this.