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!
These are the hallowed words that have greeted immigrants and refugees alike to the hopeful land of America for over a century. Despite this welcoming message that Lady Liberty broadcasts out to the sea, the American populace tends to prefer sending suspicious glares and hateful policy towards people who have given everything to come here. The ubiquity of fear-based politics has transformed the country that was built by immigrants, refugees, and religious minorities into a society that turns its back on those who most need its help.
Fear of the unknown has driven many groups of people away from America while giving power to those who feed upon it. From Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare, to the American rejection of Jewish refugees escaping the German Nazi regime, to Donald Trump’s rejection of Muslim refugees and immigrants today, politics in the United States has historically been heavily influenced by fear. But just as rejecting persecuted Jewish refugees led to a death toll of around eleven million in the twentieth century, denying refugees, building walls, and persecuting minorities will never be ethical or effective.
Refugees come to the United States to seek normalcy. Compared to people caught in these conflicts, Americans are in a position of privilege. Americans are able to wake up in a place where death is not a constant threat. They are able to provide a future for their families. They are able to live in a society where their identity will not lead to persecution. To let fear of the unknown decide the fate of those seeking refuge is an injustice beyond compare. Donald Trump ran a campaign that fed upon this hate and fear. His rhetoric preyed upon the most vulnerable humans for the benefit of his own hunger for power. He painted diverse groups of people with a broad and harmful brush. Refugees are terrorists in disguise. Immigrants steal jobs from “real Americans.” Muslims hate Christianity and freedom. These generalizations are not only untrue, they are direct results of thinly-veiled bigotry.
Trump’s politics of fear led him to put in place one of the most inhumane orders in recent American history: the travel and refugee ban. This order can only be explained by a widespread lack of empathy in the president and his supporters. Families were kept apart, innocent people were detained for days, and the order even kept an Iranian girl from receiving emergency medical treatment in America. This hastily implemented policy caused a widespread humanitarian crisis that could have been easily avoided. Osama AlOlabi is an SMU student who was kept apart from his family for a long period of time at DFW International Airport on the day the order was implemented. His family is of Syrian nationality, but they have lived in Saudi Arabia for almost two decades. When asked for his opinion on the current debate over Trump’s ban, he stated that he wishes for people “to put themselves in our shoes.” He went on to say that “it is already not easy to live outside your country away from your family, and now not being able to see them is just devastating.” For those who base their support for the ban on fear of terrorism, he stated that people “should not judge the many based on the actions of a few.”
As painful as it is to use a cliché in a situation like this, I must say that our society is at yet another crossroads in its history. Will we be remembered as a nation that saved a multitude of lives by offering refuge to those in need, despite the risks we might incur? Or will we be remembered for standing by in silence as innocent lives were taken because we were too scared to make sacrifices? History is watching, where do you stand?
This article was written by Alec Mason. Click here to see more of Alec’s work.