I ran across the following poem in my files. A famous portion of it is inscribed on a metal plaque on the Statue of Liberty, which for so long has proclaimed our identity as a nation from our Eastern shore. Here is the whole poem, by Emma Lazarus.
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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
It moves me still, but perhaps especially now that we are turning away children at risk because they came to us illegally across our southern border. I understand the difficulties and severe challenges these children are presenting to the authorities and communities in our border states. But I can’t help but mourn some of the responses we’ve heard, people wanting to send them back as quickly as possible no matter what they face where they came from. It feels like one of our core values as a nation is slipping away in our fear of being overwhelmed and overburdened by unwanted refugees.
Most of all I mourn the sorrow, pain, and fears that must fill their parents who have sent them to us in such desperation. Who would willingly give up their children except in fear for their young lives? What would a parent not do for the love of their children? What would they not sacrifice, even at the cost of their own heartbreak?
I’m praying now that we can take a breath and bring our collective creative intelligence to bear on this problem, as our compassionate God would want us to do. Or will we stop believing what Lady Liberty, Mother of Exiles, has boldly declared on our behalf since 1886: that we welcome the tired and the poor, those “yearning to breathe free,” those whom others treat as “wretched refuse”… ?
On most days, most of us are a generous and compassionate people. It’s part of what I love and cherish about our country. So my prayers today are as much for us as a nation as for the children we are asked to give safe harbor. Surely we can find a way…