On July 4th America will celebrate its Independence Day. 241 years ago, Tuesday a group of English colonists determined to rule themselves and declared freedom from that perfidious Albion from whence they came. Breaking the chains of religious oppression that had bound them in their birthplaces those Pilgrims crossed the ocean in search of a better life. They became the first (but not the last) immigrants to arrive on these shores in search of their dreams. Risking their lives for nothing more than the promise of a New World the early settlers were a beacon of hope for the tempest-tossed.
Today, those grown weary of the wars and violence and poverty of their homelands hear the call of Lady Liberty and chart their courses still for America. Ha! Jokes on them – we are not the welcoming committee our forefathers had. Where they were greeted warmly by the indigenous Patuxent People with offers of food and assistance we begrudge the new immigrants everything – especially their hopes for a better life. We criminalize them and turn them away – no matter the horrors they are trying to escape.
Using rhetoric that plays well to modern-day fears of terrorism and gang warfare this Administration has removed the welcome mat and wants to build walls on our borders. But by reducing complex security matters to a simple us vs. them equation – The only way for us to be safe is to keep them out – we are in fact setting the stage for more and more acts of violence. Rather than making us safer such efforts succeed in only making us more vulnerable. Hard-hearted immigration policies might resonate with the New Nationalists, but they are also music to the ears of extremists and true believers everywhere who echo them in their calls to arms.
“Freedom!” is what the Founding Fathers cried as they declared their Independence. Are they rolling in their graves now to see that lofty promise become a siren song for today’s downtrodden? Maybe. By choosing to forget the immortal words of hope from Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” etched on the Statue of Liberty, by trying to side-step the guarantees of our Constitution when it proves inconvenient we are turning our backs on what it means to be American. We are ignoring the very reasons we came to be.
This Fourth of July, as we celebrate the birthday of our nation, perhaps we should take a moment to reflect on all those who came before us – from all those other places – and how they made America great.