Lady Liberty illuminates our most iconic port of entry striding toward those in the midst of the most powerful storms that nature and humanity create. Words bolted to her base exclaim that all are welcome. Those lines of liturgical Ameicana are aspirational, to be sure. But like all sacred texts we strive to live up to them and understand them within our current context. 

We respect them. We learn from them. We hope to live by them. 

But alas we are within dark days of a dark age, with morally bankrupt leadership degrading our social liturgy to fit their soulless dogma of white supremacy.  

Today, Ken Cuccinelli, who leads the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, defiled our country’s holy words: 

The new policy being discussed penalizes immigrants who utilize public safety nets. In short, if you need help to getting started in this country, you hurt your chances to receive a Green Card and legal documentation. This boggles the mind. It is cruel, counter productive, and serves only to hurt immigrants without helping anyone else.

U.S. immigration law clearly states that a new legal resident must not be a burden on society. But making sure someone gets something to eat or has access to medical care isn’t a burden on society, but society’s responsibility to those who work to be a part of it. This hurts those who are in this country legally and want to follow the rules. It disproportionately impacts immigrants from poorer countries and those without higher education.

Folks, this was never about undocumented immigrants…

My family long has embraced the Statue of Liberty as the principal symbol of our country. We think of her standing tall in New York Harbor welcoming my grandfather from Germany and the millions of others who escaped similar situations over the generations. We believe in the promise of a better life for those huddled masses, the homeless, the forgotten, the Other. 

The poem Cuccinelli repurposed was written by Emma Lazarus, an American Jew. It is easy to forget that her family lived and prospered in this land, long before the establishment of the United States. She never knew of the Inquisition her ancestors fled and she died well before the horrors of the Holocaust. Like me, she lived comfortably in this country but understood that we must keep the door open for those not lucky enough to be born into security, regardless of where.

Immigration policy in this country has never been perfect, tainted by layers of anti-Catholic, antisemetic and racist ideologies. But that is why it was so important to hear the words of a Jewish poet, who lived a life far different from those who became the theme of her most famous work. To borrow from another master, “To accept one’s past—one’s history—is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it.” 

James Baldwin tells us to know our historical flaws, our country’s policy driven institutional hatred, and work to embody Lazarus’ pledge as so many Jews and allies did this past week in actions around the country. Unlike the putrid waste that lead our country today, I want to believe in the words that provide hope to those seeking the light towards a better life. I want to believe in those sacred words. 

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!”