EDITORIAL: Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free! (Thank You, Governor Shumlin)

by Marichel Vaught

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’!

Do those words even mean anything anymore? They are the words chiseled on the base of our Statue of Liberty, the gorgeous green “Mother of Exiles” — a gift to our country from France — that stands towering over New York Harbour to greet and shelter immigrants coming into America through the port of New York City that for the past 129 years has welcomed all.

I grew up with the belief that America is the melting pot — the land of opportunity — where all people of varying cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds can come together and continue to shape the country’s economic and moral fabric. America was supposed to be a world leader, influencing the greater good; a force to be reckoned with.

In mid-November, our governor, Peter Shumlin, declared that Vermont will help Syrian refugees. Soon after, Shumlin posted a video on Facebook showing him meeting and welcoming refugees from around the world who have recently settled in the Green Mountain State. It made me proud.

And then I read the comments to the video. Out of the volumes of comments posted, a majority expressed negativity and berated the governor for allowing refugees into the state. As far as I know, it’s a federal decision to take in refugees, not state, although a number of U.S. governors are signing petitions not to allow refugees into their state.

Someone wrote, “…lets let our own citizens go cold and hungry and lets bend over backwards for these losers.” Someone else called Shumlin a traitor to our country. Another person said, “The majority of refugees polled sympathize with ISIS, and there is no reliable vetting process (no criminal records exist to look through). ISIS has also been bragging for months that they plan to sneak in sleeper cells disguised as refugees.” There were some responses praising and commending Shumlin. But it was the number of remarks that bashed Shumlin’s support of refugees that made my blood boil.

How many of us are here because America opened their doors to our grandparents and great-grandparents who were looking for a better life for their families? How many of these ancestors fled persecution from their homeland and were willing to work low-paying jobs, while faced with discrimination, just to acquire the basic necessities which were far better than where they came from? How many of us wouldn’t even be here if each state denied entry to them?

Yes, we are in a different era and our population has grown since the late 1800s. And of course I believe in following the proper channels to obtain entry into the U.S., as my family did. But when your very life is in danger, the process should be expedited. Is it humane to deny safe haven to the threatened and dying?

In terms of the Syrian refugees, these people are coming from a society where the political climate is unlike anything we can begin to understand. The number of Syrian deaths since the start of their civil war is staggering — close to a quarter of a million, included in that number is about 12,000 children. More than 10 million left their homes and sought refuge in neighboring countries. More than 700,000 risked their lives fleeing to Europe to get as far away from their government as possible. Things have to be pretty bad to do that. There is no economy, no education, no health care — everything just collapsed. Why is this our problem? Because we’re human, and they’re human. And although many of us feel we can’t afford for it to be our problem, there are still many who can afford it. And in the long run, wouldn’t educating more children contribute to the future economy of the country?

Some people have this perception that refugees and immigrants are going to come here and do absolutely nothing but drain our resources. But what about contributing to our resources? It’s very likely. In our history books, we learned that tens of thousands of Chinese helped build the transcontinental railroad in California for measly pay. They labored for years under harsh conditions. After the project, the Chinese became victims of discrimination and government betrayal with the Chinese Exclusion Act, which excluded immigration from China for the following 10 years. What a reward! (Note the sarcasm.) And what about the contribution Italian immigrants made to the Vermont city of Barre? And the Scottish immigrants to Caledonia County? The list goes on. Our hospitals, police forces and schools are filled with professionals who came here to attend our schools and colleges and have gone on to work productively here. Look at what Montpelier High School is doing to create a balanced budget: Importing students from other countries to attend our great school — and pay tuition to alleviate our city’s tax burden.

What makes some Vermonters’ reactions more appalling is the time of year in which this is all being expressed. Did we forget what the holidays are all about? Have our morals become skewed because we would rather pummel each other the day after Thanksgiving, or as early as on the day itself, for vegetable steamers and electronics made overseas? Perhaps we need a reminder. We are appalled when we see a video of a woman on Black Friday snagging a hot item from a little girl among a melee of shoppers. But we are all doing just that to every person we deny refuge to — watching something so valuable being ripped from someone’s hands and doing nothing about it.

We should live up to the promise declared by Lady Liberty and remember the not often recited entirety of the poem written by Emma Lazarus that is scribed on a tablet embedded on the pedestal on which the statue stands.

Thank you, Governor Shumlin for understanding humanity and for supporting refugee resettlement here in Vermont. For those who know me, publicly thanking the Governor is HUGE for me since many of my political beliefs don’t typically align with his. But in this case, I am grateful and even more proud to be a Vermonter.

This editorial was written by Marichel Vaught who is the graphic designer and calendar editor for The Bridge. Managing Editor Carla Occaso also contributed to this piece.

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