Judith Armatta

Judith Armatta is a lawyer, journalist, and human-rights activist

MOTHER OF EXILES

In 1875 or thereabouts, my great grandpa left the Ukraine where he’d been sent into military service by the Russian Tsar. He was hungry. The soldiers barely survived on paltry rations. So he ran away. Deserted. And came to America. He was an economic immigrant.

Today, some in the U.S. disparage economic immigrants and want to keep them out. How are they different from my great grandfather? Should he, I wonder, have been denied entry? And, if him, what of the young man, the teenager fleeing drug cartels that will force him to kill or be killed? He seeks safety more than food. What of the young girl fleeing a gang who raped and killed her friend when she declined to be a “girlfriend?” There are treaties that require us to accept asylum seekers. Yet we return them to near certain death or torture.

America, the land of immigrants. Somewhere, along our way, we have forgotten, what is inscribed on a tablet in the pedestal of Lady Liberty:

The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles.

From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips.

"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!"