There’s a large stamp outside of city hall in Cleveland that says, “Free” on it. Some people say that the stamp is symbolic of all the free services and giveaways the government has provided over the years, but the real reason is deeper.
“Free” was the stamp that was used for those who were first coming to this country at Ellis Island. Officials stamped immigrants’ passports with the stamp “freedom,” echoing the sentiments of the words marked at the base of the statue of liberty:
“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.”
Many immigrants were fleeing religious persecution, wars, famine or any other struggle imaginable as a result of government oppression.
They still want to come here. They want the freedoms of opportunity. They want to live the four freedoms President Franklin Roosevelt mentioned that should be guaranteed in every country: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
Visit an immigration ceremony, and you may be lucky to hear firsthand what freedom means. Those brave enough to share their stories will regal listeners with the horrors of limitation and blessings of abundance our country affords. They will share how their lives have been changed as a result of a bold step of courage to change their plight, coming with the clothes on their back and mere dollars in their pockets.
As of 2019, over 69,000 children were held in detention centers by our government as a result of their parents’ choice to flee their countries. Saturday, June 20th, is a day to honor the refugee for World Refugee Day. I’m thinking of my friends who lost a child due to war in Syria. A family who lived hand to mouth and survived by the grace of God, luckily were granted asylum due to years of petitioning and living in refugee camps.
I’m thinking about the refugees who are living under a phrase the Trump administration has called “Migrant Protection Protocols” where they are encamped in Mexico awaiting their day in court to be considered entrance into the US. Some are not guaranteed that the day will come.
People are waiting in camps where the coronavirus is running rampant and other diseases are prevalent. They are dependent on the Mexican government right now for their needs. Some are risking their lives and losing hope trying to figure out a new way to survive. We have the means to attend to their needs as well but don’t. Homeland security estimates that over 60 percent of the migrants are from other countries. They are unaccompanied children and family units.
In a land where a government has caused the separation of parents from their children, we have a lot of work to do in living up to the meaning of the virtues expressed by the tenants and symbols of this country.
In a land where people of color fear for their children dying in our streets from gun violence or racism, we’ve got a lot of work to do.
In a land where people protests erupt in violence as a result of rage and angst of inaction, we’ve got a lot of work to do.
In a land where a ban was imposed on Muslims entering the country, we have a lot of work to do. In a land where children were brought here and raised in our system and the only home they know but are still threatened with deportations, we’ve got a lot of work to do.
In this land of milk and honey, milk being the symbols of nourishment and honey being the sweetness of God’s gifts given to us through sharing in God’s bounty, we have a lot of work to do.
I talked with a friend whose relatives are people of color. He has grandchildren who are people of color. He expects that his grandson will face systemic racism and fears for his well being.
He quietly reminded me this day that there is work to be done. He stated simply that children born in this land of abundance are not as free as they could be. Our very country is working to feed the most vulnerable among us. Our own children are limited in their ability to taste the sweetness of freedom.
My friend reminded me what that freedom stamp means to him. The possibilities have always loomed large in a land where creativity, ingenuity and courageous entrepreneurship can impact a life or two. A land where equal opportunity can afford a generation new hopes and dreams. He reminded me how he walked by that stamp on his way to work every day and questions where we are headed in this country in affording more liberties for his grandchildren in uncertain times.
We’ve got a lot of work to do.