The Statue of Liberty, originally known as Liberty Enlightening the World, standing 305 feet and 6 inches tall and weighing in at 225 tons of copper, welcomes those entering New York Harbor with a seven pointed crown (one point for each continent), a torch, a tablet (inscribed with the date July 4, 1776) and broken shackles at her feet, representing freedom and democracy in the face of oppression and tyranny.
In 1886, Lady Liberty first lifted her torch to welcome those coming to the United States in search of a better life. As a gift from the French to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi designed the statue based on an idea suggested by Edouard de Laboulaye in 1865.
This gift represented the relationship between the two countries that helped gain the United States freedom and democracy during the American Revolution. Bartholdi discovered Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor as the perfect place for the monument. Conveniently enough, about a half a mile away from Bedloe’s Island is Ellis Island.
In 1890, Ellis Island was designated as the first federal immigration station by President Harrison. Between 1892 and 1954, over 12 million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island. Many wars to reclaim land and establish countries and empires such as the Franco-Prussian War occurred in the late 1800s while World War I and World War II and the effects of these wars dominated life for the better part of the 20th century. Twelve million people were leaving their homes and everything they had known due to political instability, restrictive religious laws and deteriorating economic conditions.
Today, it would seem as though we are back in a similar situation. In 2015, 63.5 million people were displaced worldwide. Immigrants and refugees from places like the Middle East and North Africa are fleeing civil war, hatred and oppression of various forms. There are threats of terror, acts of violence and ignorance to many issues, which allows their perpetuation. To make everything seemingly worse, there has been a ban placed to keep people from coming into the United States to seek refuge.
There’s a lot of debate over this ban, even whether or not it is a ban (but the President called it a ban before this debate even started, so I think it’s a ban). However, while everyone is debating, there’s one thing a lot of people have forgotten. Among the anger, hatred, and fear, we have forgotten that those seeking refuge are people. They are people looking for safety. They are people looking for a new life. They are people seeking access to basic human rights, and human rights cannot have borders or walls or bans forced upon them by an executive order.
I’m not suggesting that the system that was used at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th to admit immigrants into the United States was perfect nor am I suggesting that we let anyone and everyone into the United States today. However, before we ban people and force stereotypes upon them, I think we should remember the Statue of Liberty.
On the pedestal of the monument, “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus reminds us of how we became the nation we are today: a nation of immigrants and refugees of war and oppression. With this poem, we are reminded that we welcomed the tired, the poor and the huddled masses. We welcomed those without a home. Many of our relatives, mine included, have likely passed through New York Harbor.
Lady Liberty herself reminds us of our history. It reminds us that we fought for democracy and freedom, which is not something that is solely exclusive to the United States. I encourage you to place yourselves in the shoes of the people who have been turned away throughout our history: Jewish people fleeing Europe during World War II, immigrants from Mexico and South America seeking security, refugees from Syria fleeing a civil war, and so many others seeking the asylum of democracy and freedom represented in New York Harbor. I encourage you to remember our history and our values as a nation. I encourage you to see the humanity of all people and to realize that we’re all just trying to make it.