Letter | If she could, Statue of Liberty would bow her head low over border crisis

08/10/2014 12:00 AM

08/11/2014 6:46 AM

Many in my generation remember an iconic drawing. It was a picture of the Lincoln Memorial drawn after the murder of President Kennedy. Instead of the stone-faced Lincoln sitting rigidly in his chair, it was Lincoln bent over with his head in his hands as if grieving.

In my opinion, the House of Representatives' cobbled together attempt at immigration reform might elicit a similar response from the Statute of Liberty. In my mind's eye I can see her head bent low and her torch down by her side. The plaque at her base, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … ", covered.

"Send all those children back!" shout many in the GOP, including my Congressman, Tom Rice. Check the papers of those who come forward to sponsor them. And while you are at it, send back all those undocumented adults who came here as children. It doesn't make any difference if they are solid citizens pursuing the American Dream.

Could it be that among the children on the border there are legitimate refugees? Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have been torn asunder by civil wars and drug wars. Some years ago I visited El Salvador. I arrived just as the head of the human rights organization there was assassinated. An associate and I walked from our hotel to the cathedral where his body lay in state to pay our respects. It was the same cathedral where Catholic Archbishop Romero had lain in state after he was killed because of his outspoken support of poor folks.

On our way back to the hotel, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. As a former infantry officer, I had learned to take that seriously. Glancing behind me, I noticed we were being followed by a black Suburban with tinted windows. The vehicle of choice of the death squads. Luckily, they were just sending a message. We are watching.

I can't begin to understand what it must be like for children to grow up in the midst of the kind of violence and poverty that has gripped Central America for decades. At the least we need to offer due process to the children on the border and an opportunity to be considered for refugee status. Legal counsel needs to be available.

Could it be that among those undocumented adults who came here as children are future leaders in education, medicine, business, scientific research, good citizens who will enrich our nation? We need to consider ways of helping them attain citizenship status.

For me this is a matter of faith as well as public policy. All the faith traditions I know call upon followers to welcome the stranger, the sojourner. Many of those traditions remind us that we are all sojourners. In my faith tradition it is not too far off the mark to describe Jesus and his family as refugees as they fled Herod's death squads.

The writer lives in Pawleys Island.

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