Do Refugees’ Lives Matter?

Do refugee and immigrant lives matter? It was just a news flash caught out of the corner of my eyes as I tried to ignore the all-Trump-news-all- day cycle that has gripped the media. The TV screen showed an overloaded rubber boat with refugees from Syria and Afghanistan cheering as they landed on the shore of one of the Greek islands, stops along the way to an uncertain future. Standing in a classic George Washington Crossing the Delaware pose, instead of weapons they held selfies aloft, one man in the bow holding a selfie stick as if it were a flag of freedom. Another held up his newborn baby triumphantly as a weeping woman carried a small child above the waves. Kneeling and kissed the earth, a bearded man shed tears of relief. The news clip ended with the bedraggled refugees, in a single file, escorted uphill to a village by authorities, their futures, their very lives, uncertain. They may be forced to return to what for many is uncertain death.

Trump has exposed a darkness lurking within the human spirit that unleashes hatred and fury toward these “others” making meanness and total lack of compassion the norm, here and in Europe in a rerun of the Know-Nothing Party which flourished here in the mid-1800s as an anti-immigrant party. Philip Roth refers to these people as “the indigenous American berserk!” I couldn’t help but recall when a dolphin was recently stranded on the beach where I was staying in Florida. The attention, tenderness and the hours spent cooling the animal, strategizing what to do and occasional reports to the curious crowd about what the authorities were doing when they drew blood and took vital signs.

Three hours later, the struggling dolphin was carried in a sling across the hot beach to a waiting truck that would take it to Sea World for “rehabilitation.” The sweaty crowd cheered, our emotions touched by observing the recue, an act of resistance, to push back against the harm humans cause to the natural world that, according to Terry Maseur of LA, a hummingbird rehabber, “draws out raw emotions that unleash our deepest insecurities about our humanity, mortality and place in the natural world.” My tears flowed at the kindness shown by officials and the watching crowd. That compassion disappears under the dark cloud of nativism and nationalism shown by so many descendants of immigrants.

I heard about the signs for my ancestors saying “No Italians” and “No Irish” need apply. So much for my ancestors. The only true “Americans” are Native Americans upon whom we’ve heaped genocide and government policies that have almost destroyed the original settlers, who lived lightly on Mother Earth, thinking about the effects of any actions on seven generations to come. Those spewing hatred of immigrants should explore their own histories, what their ancestors endured to come to our shores for freedom from violence, religious persecution and the possibility of economic opportunity. A Native American suggested that they collect $500 from every American as a fine!

Imagine if instead of hating these 60 million refugees, 30 million of them children, seeking refuge from their violence-plagued countries, we welcomed them, embraced them with care and kindness, helping them become acclimated, treating them as compassionately as we treat dolphins…

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