Imagine it is the early 20th century and you are onboard a ship with a one way ticket from a distant shore to the United States. It has been a long a difficult voyage during which many have not survived. You and your family left your homeland in search of a new life with all your worldly possessions in one suitcase. As you approach the Port of New York one foggy morning, a beacon of light appears out of the mist. You are told it is the Statue of Liberty. Tears fill your eyes as you sail by Lady Liberty and dock at Ellis Island – the start of a new life and an opportunity to participate in the American Dream.
Does that story sound familiar? It is the story of millions of immigrants – possibly one of your relatives. The chances are that your ancestors did not get on a boat because life in the old country was tranquil and prosperous. No, somehow they garnered the courage to change their life circumstances for the better but with much uncertainty and with many challenges. The hope for a better life for them and eventually for you was compelling.
In 1903, a bronze plaque was located in the Statue of Liberty’s museum. On that plaque is a quote from Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, New Colossus. Its famous last lines have become part of American history and reflect one the deep seated values of our country – we are a welcoming and compassionate people.
“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-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Fast forward to 2018 and there are still millions of “tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” They come from poor countries often without basic human needs. Today they arrive by airplane, boat, motor vehicle and by foot with the same hope – for a better life.
Our elected leaders seek to find the right balance between opportunity and restriction in the reality of a 21st century world. Can it be done with the compassion and respect that Lady Liberty symbolizes?
It is time to summon the “better angels” of our character and affirm our belief that “all men are created equal endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”