The hallmarks of our heritage

Published 5:02 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I have been thinking a lot about a poem over the last few days since President Trump signed his executive order severely limiting refugees and immigrants admitted to the United States from some Muslim countries.

That poem is a sonnet written by American poet Emma Lazarus in 1883 to raise money for the construction of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. In 1903, the poem was engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the pedestal’s lower level.

For those who may not be familiar with the poem, its second stanza reads as follows:

”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!”

This poem and the statue where it is engraved is one of the hallmarks of our heritage.

It has served as a beacon of hope to countess refugees of all races, creeds and colors who entered the United States through the port in New York and welcomed thousands of returning soldiers — like my father and father-in-law — returning from fighting the scourge of extreme nationalism in Europe.

I also recall a section from the Bible — a book to which many of today’s politicians refer when making pronouncements about the future of our country.

The Book of Matthew reads as follows: “’For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

As Americans, we need to be mindful of our own heritage as immigrants and our heritage in welcoming other immigrants to our shores.

The fact is — we are here in the “New World” because our ancestors fled, were kicked out of or were violently taken from every other country in the world.

Some recent research — albeit under debate — also shows that even those people we call Native Americans actually came here from somewhere else, walking across a land bridge from what is today Russia to Alaska.

Whether we were brought here by force from Africa, fled persecution in eastern Europe, came seeking artistic or political freedoms or have ancestors who have been here since the nation’s founding, we are all immigrants to these shores.

I am also reminded this week of previous news coverage of Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, welcoming Syrian families as they entered that country. When handing one child a winter coat, he was heard to tell that child that he was finally safe. I should also note that Canada, like the United States, France and Germany, has been the victim of terrorism but its leaders and citizens have decided not to shirk its duty as citizens of the world.

A nation is judged on how it treats its most vulnerable citizens, I was recently told.

To that, I would add that it is also judged on how it treats the most vulnerable in the human family worldwide.

With Trump’s signature on the Muslim ban, the United States has firmly shut its “golden door” to a group of refugees who desperately need us and, in doing so, defaulted on its moral standing in the world.

Betty Mitchell Gray is a Washington resident and former reporter for the Washington Daily News.