Letter: Changing centuries of welcoming oppressed

From: Barbara Smitherman


Indiana GOP legislators have joined with others to pass legislation to pause entry to the United States to Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Apparently the legislation passed in numbers to make it veto-proof by the president, who had vowed to veto it. Some Democrats also voted for it.

We are a nation of immigrants who have become xenophobic to other immigrants – but apparently only to those of a certain religion or who emigrate from a certain region – in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris. Short of a week following those horrific events, we have changed two centuries of welcoming the oppressed. In less than a week, George W. Bush and legislators did not respond to 9/11 with fear and exclusionary language or acts.

President Bush said, “Nearly all Americans have ancestors who braved the oceans – liberty-loving risk takers in search of an ideal. Immigration is not just a link to America’s past; it’s also a bridge to America’s future.”

To quote another George (Washington), “I had always hoped this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.”

Ronald Reagan spoke of a letter he received that said, “You can go live in France, but you can’t become a Frenchman. You can go live in Germany or Italy, but you can’t become a German or Italian.” But, he said, “Anyone from any corner of the world can come to live in the United States and become an American.” And most of us recall the words of Emma Lazarus: “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.”

Sadly, we have reached a place out of fear, emotion and heartless disregard for these who are persecuted and oppressed and who suffer from the ravages of war and inhumane treatment by their leaders.

They brave long journeys, the oceans, risk their lives and their children’s lives just to find a better way of life – freedom. It’s what this country was founded on. And we’re to say, “Sorry, not today,” as Gov. Mike Pence has already said to refuges scheduled to come to Indiana who were then sent to another state.

Our legislators do not have the courage of even a single one of these refugees. How ISIS must be enjoying our acquiescence to their violence – acting out of fear, “of even one terrorist slipping in with refugees,” to quote Marco Rubio. We have played right into their bloody hands. They now have another weapon at their disposal to recruit – they have made the great America bow to their threat of violence and terrorism. Are they not great? Look what they’ve accomplished. The Taliban did not achieve such cowardice in our legislators. Sounds like a good recruitment tool and we have given it to them along with perverting the greatest of American values.

Shame on us.