America: land of the free and the brave, or home of the bound and the fearful?

Statur of Liberty PlaqueThe United States of America – a nation of immigrants – appears to be turning away from and shunning its history. More and more voices are condemning the US government’s plans to provide asylum to thousands of desperate Syrian war refugees.

Many Americans who believe their country’s heritage is best symbolized by the Statue of Liberty unreasonably object to having refugees from Middle Eastern countries. Many Americans who consider the Statue of Liberty as synonymous with freedom unconditionally brand refugees from the Middle East as terrorists. And many Americans who insist on their right to freedom in the choice of a religion consider Muslims in general as undesirable.

Many Americans have forgotten that the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France, symbolizes America’s heritage as a nation of immigrants. What gives meaning to American culture and heritage is the inscription at the base of the Statue - written by poet Emma Lazarus – that proclaims “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .”

Syrian Immigrants Crossing to EuropeThere is no one in America – outside of the country’s Indian natives – who is not an immigrant or the descendant of an immigrant.

America is a country made up of migrants from around the world who escaped persecution, war, and other forms of oppression: Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Filipino migrants from Asia and the Far East as well as people from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. They all helped man America’s industry and commerce, and made America the most powerful nation on earth.

Syrian Refugee CampAmerica’s record as a haven for the oppressed and misplaced is well-established. The US welcomed 1.2 million Cubans after their country turned communist; tens of thousands of Koreans after the Korean War; 65,000 Vietnamese following the end of the Vietnam War; 300,000 Soviet Jews in the late 1980s; thousands of Afghans in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of their country; and 100,000 Iraqis following the Gulf War. All of these refugees have become part of the American social milieu.

Refugees of WarRefugees do not easily qualify for admission to the US – they have to undergo a vetting process that could last a year or two. The process weeds out possible criminals, jihadists, or other religious zealots and makes sure only qualified people are admitted.

Conservatives have created fear and near-panic among uninformed Americans by championing anti-refugee rhetoric. Donald Trump (who is married to a Serbian-Croatian war refugee and immigrant), Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio – three demagogues – have been spreading rumors that the majority of Syrian refugees are terrorists trying to infiltrate Western societies, while 31 Republican governors have announced that they will turn away Syrian refugees who attempt to enter their states. None of these demagogues are true Americans.

Children - Most VulnerableThe inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty is America’s national credo – and is the foundation of America’s national philosophy.

Immigration from around the world makes American culture superiorly diverse and the American society rich in tradition and creativity.

We should keep it that way.

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