Why America Needs To Reread The Statue Of Liberty's Poem 130 Years Later

by John Haltiwanger

Friday is the 130th birthday of the Statue of Liberty, one of America's most enduring symbols of freedom and democracy.

President Grover Cleveland, who happened to be a former New York governor, dedicated the statue on October 28, 1886, and it became a national monument in 1924.

The statue -- a gift from France -- reminds us of this country's immigrant heritage, and the millions who've been inspired to come to the US in search of a better life.

There's a poem engraved on a plaque located inside the pedestal of the statue, which stands as a testament to America's past and the symbolic meaning of the Statue of Liberty.

The poem, "The New Colossus," is unfortunately extremely relevant now -- over a century later -- due to the global refugee crisis.

It says,

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-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

These words were written by Emma Lazarus, a New Yorker of Portuguese Sephardic Jewish descent.

She drew her inspiration for the poem from both her heritage and the work she did with refugees on Wards Island.

While Lazarus clearly felt America should be a country that is welcoming to immigrants and refugees, not everyone agrees.

This has unfortunately been the case throughout this country's history.

Many Americans have greeted new waves of immigrants with suspicion and disdain, and there have often been times when much of the country stood against helping refugees -- including Jewish refugees, among others, around the time of the Holocaust.

Today, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is continuing America's long tradition of demonizing and ostracizing immigrants and refugees.

He's proposed radical policies involving the deportation of millions of people, while continuously portraying refugees as potential terrorists.

Trump's son even compared refugees to poisonous Skittles, completely dehumanizing some of the world's most vulnerable people in an absolutely ludicrous way.

Meanwhile, only three refugees have been arrested over terrorism in the US since 9/11.

We are currently witnessing the worst refugee crisis of our era, with over 20 million refugees worldwide.


An ongoing and extremely bloody conflict in Syria has made it the largest source of refugees.

At the moment, there are close to five million Syrian refugees.

The US has made an effort to address this crisis, accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees, but it could arguably do a lot more.

Right now, there are 10 countries that host half the world's refugees, and the US is not one of them.

In general, wealthy countries are doing barely anything to address the refugee crisis.

As we reflect on the history of the Statue of Liberty, Americans should reread the words of "The New Colossus," and ask themselves what kind of country they really want to live in.

Do they want to cower behind arbitrary borders and walls in fear of people who desperately need assistance?

Or do they want to live up to the ideals this country was founded upon, and accept that doing the right thing often takes a certain level of risk?

These are questions worth asking, especially as we get closer to Election Day.