These are some of the words engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:
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!
From American poet Emma Lazarus (1849–1887), written in 1883.
France presented the Statue of Liberty as a gift to the United States in 1886. It has been regarded as a symbol of this country’s welcoming approach towards immigrants and refugees.
In the wake of the horrific acts of terrorism in Paris earlier this month, and the possibility that some of the perpetrators were Syrian or spent time in Syria, some politicians are calling for a reduction or an end to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States.
I believe that such a response would be a mistake.
In our history, we have had periods of hostility towards immigrants and refugees. Many different groups have felt the sting of anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States, including Chinese, Irish, Mexicans, Africans, African-Americans, Germans, Italians, and many other groups. During the Second World War, our government put law-abiding persons of Japanese ancestry (including about 80,000 American-born U.S. citizens) into internment camps. Although it seems that xenophobia – fear of foreigners – is a part of being human, it is an irrational fear.
By rejecting refugees, we are caving in to the terrorists’ desires. We become afraid of everyone and everything. But we can do better than to revert to our xenophobic instincts.
With the exception of Native Americans, we are all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. We are part of a wonderful diversity of persons from around the world who are proud to live and work in the United States, and to call America “home.”
The United States conducts an extensive and thorough security screening of all potential refugees. In fact, refugees are subject to more intense scrutiny than any other persons who enter the United States. By continuing our proud tradition of welcoming refugees, including Syrian refugees fleeing war and persecution, we build upon our strong foundation as a nation of immigrants, and as a place where persons have an opportunity to live in peace and to contribute to our great diversity.