Give me your tired, your poor

by Barbara Ridpath

Posted: 10 Aug 2018

"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-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

 

- Emma Lazarus, this quote can be found on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour


Having left St Paul's Institute to travel and spend some time in the United States, where I have not lived for over 30 years, I went today to visit Ellis Island with my British husband, who had just 'immigrated' to the US.

Twelve million immigrants were processed from there during the 60 years it was in operation. It could take up to a day to be 'processed,' and for 20% of those people it took longer due to health checks or other issues. Some were sent home at the expense of the steamships that carried them if they did not have the necessary paperwork or were thought to be criminals or dissidents. For as long as they were there, they received food and medical attention, and social service organisations offered help, and sometimes clothes.

It was difficult not to be moved by the memorial and impossible not to draw disagreeable contrasts between such a generous and open immigration policy, what the US does now, and the way Europe is not dealing with similar movement from Africa and the Middle East today.

During the time that Ellis Island operated, most of the new arrivals came from Europe: some fleeing religious persecution, war and revolution, and some in search of economic opportunity in the face of agricultural failure or industrialisation that left them without work. The parallels with the reasons for those making the boat trip across the Mediterranean cannot be ignored.

True of course that the US at the time was a young and growing country, with huge amounts of land to be claimed, and a wealth of opportunities. Those closing the doors to Europe and the US today, think we have no room, no jobs for these people. And yet collectively, the US and Europe remain among the wealthiest regions in the world.

A country is only as strong as the way it treats its weakest citizens. It is only as generous as the welcome it gives to those in need. As an American coming back to the country, I felt I could see Lady Liberty crying at the current US immigration policy. A small model of that wonderful gift from the French to the United States stands in the Seine. I suspect she is also crying.

About this author

Barbara Ridpath is the former director of St Paul's Institute.

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of St Paul's Institute or St Paul's Cathedral.