An ignorance of our past, with fear of a changing future

Refugees face the fate that our own ancestors escaped only because Americans of yesteryear took them in

LONDONDERRY — My soul is filled with sadness at how bigoted, racist, and xenophobic the United States has become, and my fist is raised in anger at the opportunistic leaders who selfishly fan the flames of hatred.

The country I love was once a metaphorical beacon on the hill, welcoming of strangers, and open to the tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

We took in wave after wave of displaced refugees and gave them an opportunity to resettle and build new lives in the American melting pot. Each wave fled from a different form of persecution or hardship, but all gave themselves to our nation, and in time they gave us many new generations committed to making this country stronger and better.

We are those immigrants. But perhaps no more.

Americans are becoming hateful. We are lashing out with an ignorance of our past, and with fear of a changing future.

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I've watched with dismay as voices within our political culture vilify those who look, speak, or pray differently, and then rally others to echo their hate.

This nastiness has been long in the making, but emerged with vigor early this year as a political wedge issue targeting Mexican immigrants. Opportunistic leaders shouted for a giant wall to keep our southern neighbors out, and they demanded a round-up of the 11 million who are already here.

In the summertime they targeted Black Americans, too, championing government agents who viciously attacked them as individuals, and attacked again as they assembled to assert their fundamental Constitutional right to speak and live freely and equally.

And now, these vile leaders are fanning the flames of hatred and fear against Syrian refugees who have been forced from their homes and homeland by indiscriminate terrorism, much of it the unintended result of U.S. aggression elsewhere.

These mean-spirited leaders smile politely and concede that most of the refugees are good people pushed into chaos and struggling to survive, but then stoke a fear that just a few might one day become troublesome, and so they incite us to fear them all.

They preach that we must close our borders for our own good, and in doing so they disparage the American values that made our nation great.

It is easy to be afraid, but fear is not an American value.

Throughout our history, each wave of immigrants has brought their own hardships, and each wave has included a few dangerous individuals. That is nothing new. We have welcomed these immigrants, and when trouble was detected it was dealt with.

To destine hundreds of thousands of struggling refugees to despair and death because of fear of a few is to deny the fate that our own ancestors escaped only because Americans of yesteryear took them in.

We are the children of those immigrants.

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Fear of refugees is the voice of hate, but so, too, is fear of the impoverished. Conservative leaders raise their voices to rally against poor immigrants, decrying that they bring no immediate economic benefit and might pressure government budgets with new demands on food and housing assistance.

Some of those voices acknowledge that the United States is a rich nation, but then with a disturbing sleight of hand they define our society as so poor that we can't afford to help our own impoverished and most certainly can't afford to help those from elsewhere.

But these voices are wrong. The U.S. is the wealthiest nation on earth. We can easily afford to help our own citizens, and to support new immigrants, just as we have done for hundreds of years.

We can afford it if we change our priorities and shift resources from weapons of war to assistance for the poor.

We can afford it if we expect the wealthiest among us help the poorest among us.

We can afford it if we look to history and recognize that investing in those less fortunate yields a stronger, better, more prosperous America.

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