Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor

Democratic Candidate in MN-08, Kirsten Kennedy, on our moral imperative to welcome asylum seekers and enact open-hearted immigration policies.

Last summer, my eldest daughter spent two and a half months working and interpreting in a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos. Despite her short stay, her weekly emails and personal accounts opened our family’s eyes to the brutal realities of displaced people fleeing war, persecution, and violence. More importantly, the images and numbers in the news became forever humanized. Her friends and contacts were imprinted onto our hearts and into our minds as brothers, sisters, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, and neighbors rather than simply “refugees”. For no one is ever one thing. The movement of human beings is not new, and the coordinates of one’s birthplace should not determine one’s destiny. We promised each other to never forget.

The events currently transpiring at our borders, however, remind me that many of us have forgotten our history: where we come from, and what we stand for.

Legally, we are failing. Children are being separated from their families – and if lucky are found after a grueling process, sometimes several states away. Others, around 1500 missing as of two months ago, lost in a disorganized system of care workers and foster homes all around the US. Toddlers are testifying before judges. Mothers are finally reunited with their missing babies, greeted with severe trauma and little-to-no recognition. Parents separated from their children are failing asylum interviews at alarming rates, likely due to an inefficient, trauma-inducing system. There are not nearly enough lawyers to meet the needs of a growing detainee population. Attorneys on the ground report unlawful practices by immigration agents such as the collateralizing of missing children for voluntary deportation.

Living conditions in “detention centers” are equally, if not more, appalling: children sleeping on floors, individuals unable to obtain needed medical treatments, head and body lice infestations, days without access to bathing. I’m not sure about the America you envision, but mine has never included holding asylum seekers at our borders to eat, sleep, and defecate in small confined spaces.

We cannot talk ourselves out of this one. No euphemisms can save us now. The damage we are inflicting will have lasting effects on these individuals and our country. ICE must be abolished. A way must be paved to honor the international human rights laws we proclaim to believe. We must offer these families and individuals a humane, just way to seek asylum and enter our country. We must stop seeing them as numbers and start seeing them as our kindred. Most simply, we must find a way to live by the immortal words engraved upon our 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-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


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Read more of Kirsten’s blog posts at her DemHub homepage!

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