Op/Ed By George Payne –
Liberty means freedom. Freedom is not about borders, passports, driving licenses, tax stubs and censuses. Freedom is not about race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, or one’s economic worth. What is freedom if not the feeling of being free?
Recently, I have been thinking about a sweet little children’s book called The Statue of Liberty by Lucille Recht Penner. The author writes: “A lady stands in New York Harbor. She is as tall as a skyscraper. She is called the Statue of Liberty. “Liberty” means freedom. All over the world, people dreamed of coming to America to find freedom. People came by ship. The trip took many days. Men, women, and children were crowded together. They were tired, hungry, and scared. Suddenly they saw the lady! They had reached America at last. Now they knew they were free. People cried for joy. The Statue of Liberty was a present from the people of France to the people of the United States.”
It is a plain children’s book, but sometimes the most profound messages are encapsulated in the most humble ways. The question that this book asks all Americans to think about is why France gave us that statue in the first place. They did so because they admired what America could become. Much more grandly, France wanted that statue to represent a new birth of human possibility. They wanted it to be a beacon of hope for all nations, and a lasting monument to the brotherhood and sisterhood of common people wherever they exist. In the words of Emma Lazarus, ” Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Today, despite President Trump’s confounding revision of history regarding his stance on DACA, the fact remains that he alone is responsible for putting the program on life support. From day one, his administration has made it a priority to make all immigrants more fearful of deportation. Rather than extending a hand to the tired, he has torn it away and shoved them back. Rather than welcoming the poor and huddled masses yearning to be free, he has smeared them for their poverty and mocked their desires for a better life. From authorizing sweeping raids by ICE, to implementing unconstitutional travel bans on Muslim immigrants and refugees, President Trump has broken the American promise and tarnished the symbolic meaning of France’s most cherished gift to our country.
All over the world people still dream of coming to America. But, when they arrive, there will no longer be someone special waiting for them. She used to stand in New York Harbor, lighting their way home.
George Cassidy Payne is a SUNY adjunct professor of philosophy and domestic violence counselor. He lives and works in Rochester, NY.