We’re a nation of immigrants, some more recent than others. People have come here for a long time. Some were looking for opportunity, a chance to own some land, to find work, to learn a trade, to practice a trade they’d learned somewhere else, to have choices they’d never had before. Some were looking for freedom, freedom they couldn’t find anywhere else, freedom that could be taken for granted here. Some were trying to escape from floods, droughts, famines, and other disasters. Some were brought here in chains. And some were refugees. They were trying to escape persecution, war, and genocide. They were running for their lives and their children’s lives.
We all ended up here, and, eventually, we found ways to live together even though it wasn’t easy. And we all became Americans.
Some people came here alone. Others came with a family or a group of families. Some came as part of a wave of people from one country or one part of the world. The newcomers were usually at a disadvantage. They were often poor. Some had difficulty learning a new language and dealing with new customs. They weren’t accepted right away. The people who had been here longer viewed them with suspicion and fear, and sometimes with outright hostility. They were often marginalized and pushed to the edges of society. It was easier to see them as members of a group rather than as individuals and to project some set of traits, characteristics, values, and behaviors onto them.
Fear isn’t new. Neither is hostility. There have been misguided and, frankly, shameful attempts to exclude entire groups of people in the past. We’ve always come to regret those things. None of them would be on a list of our proudest moments. But we’re doing it again.
We’re facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. People have lost their homes and their families. They live lives of desperation in refugee camps. Some risk everything on a chance to escape and then drown in the sea or freeze to death in the mountains. Some are taken advantage of, betrayed, and even killed by people they trusted. We can help the way people in other countries are helping. We have the resources and the know-how. We can welcome people and help them get started in a new life. We can keep our promises and honor our commitments. But we may not be allowed to do any of that. Our new president has decided that every Muslim is a terrorist just as he’s decided that every Mexican is a criminal and a rapist. He’s decided that people should be turned away, not for what they are or what they’ve done, but simply for where they come from or what he thinks about their religious beliefs. He’s told us to forget compassion, generosity, and fairness. He’s told us to forget our responsibilities and our principles. And he’s told us to forget we’re a nation of immigrants and of refugees.
The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column.