The executive orders issued this week banning travel to the US to building a wall, brought to me a flood of emotions from sadness, to fear, to anger. I thought about my very existence. My father fled Poland during World War II through a number of countries, finally ending up in the US. His father, mother, and sister did not make it. Except for my sister, I have no surviving relatives on my father's side.
As a young man, I worked in a TV repair shop (yes, we used to fix them). I made many service calls to Polish neighborhoods in southwest Detroit. In those days, very few homes were air conditioned. In the summer heat, my customers wore light garments with short sleeves. From time to time I would see numbers tattooed on people's forearms. We would briefly look each other in the eye without a word. No comments were necessary.
I married the daughter of immigrants. My entire family is built on immigration. So yes, I get emotional when talking about immigration.
Today, I live and work with a multitude of ethnicities. I have been welcomed into the homes of Muslim families. I break bread and share drinks with coworkers and neighbors come from all over the globe. Some own businesses that employ people and in so doing, multiply the GDP of this nation. All of these people are hard-working, tax paying citizens. And good neighbors. This is the rich DNA of America. This is an existential issue. If we deny immigration, America will die of a self-inflicted wound.
So in this new climate, I worry. I worry about my neighbors and co-workers being profiled. I worry about their families. I worry about them when they travel outside our borders that another arbitrary order will come down and block their entry. I worry that history is repeating itself.
Singling out an ethnic or religious group as an "enemy" is the beginning of road that humanity has been down many times. It is a time-honored political strategy to create an "enemy" and make them the object of fear and derision. America is better than this. And, if America is not better than this, then we should dispense with the pretense. That we are a nation of immigrants. Once we shut the door, we are not. That we are a "Christian" nation. If we bar the "least of these", then we are not. We have denied Christ.
On the Statue of Liberty, there is a plaque and inscription by Emma Lazarus:
“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!”
If we bar the "tired, poor masses" who have been huddled in refugee camps for years, who have fled unimaginable violence, then we should give the statue back to France. We are not deserving of the gift and the honor it bestows.
Or perhaps we will wake up to what is threatening to overtake us. We will become politically active. We will join forces and stand up for what is good and right about America. Because if we don't stand up for what is good and right about our country, we will lose it.