Mombian: Mother of Exiles

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A mother cries today. She looks out over the shores to which she beckoned huddled masses, and wonders if they will ever regain their welcome aura. She knows, too, that though she stands as a beacon to the homeless and tempest-tost, she also represents something more: liberty for all those who dwell on the lands she surveys, sea to shining sea. But today, she cannot hold her head up as once she did.

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President Trump’s ban on refugees and on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, and his plan to build a wall at the Mexican border, go against our core values as a country. Make no mistake: Immigration and refugee issues are LGBTQ issues. Even though it seems like a rumored executive order that would allow anti-LGBTQ discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom” has been nixed (or at least delayed) because of the efforts of Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, the immigration and refugee bans are anti-LGBTQ moves as well. LGBTQ people may be immigrants and refugees, like anyone else, and face persecution in some countries specifically because they are LGBTQ.

As a parent, too, I have been thinking of the news stories about how Trump’s actions have been impacting children from all types of families, despite the subsequent court-ordered stay on the ban. Last year, a toddler in an Iraqi refugee camp, was badly burned when a heater exploded. The boy, Dilbreen, and his father obtained travel visas to go to Boston for preliminary surgery, reported CBS Boston. Afterward, the father returned to Iraq to be with his wife as she gave birth to another child. The new baby was born the day of Trump’s election and named “Trump.” Dilbreen was scheduled for another surgery this week, and his family was ready to join him near Boston—but the ban meant their visas were revoked. As of this writing, their situation remains unclear.

And the family of a Syrian refugee girl, Sham Aldaher, who underwent two major facial surgeries in Barcelona to address disfiguring birth defects, had planned to settle in the U.S. where she could receive follow-up care. They had passed all security checks, but Trump’s ban left them in limbo in Spain, the New York Times reported.

In the chaos of ban’s initial implementation, too, a Somali woman and her two children were detained at Dulles Airport for 20 hours without food. The children have U.S. passports, reported ABC News. In another incident, a five-year-old boy, a U.S. citizen who arrived from Iran with another family member, was detained without his mother for several hours at Dulles before being reunited. Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, explained that it was all part of the process “to make sure that, if they are a five-year-old, that maybe they’re with their parents and they don’t pose a threat. But to assume that just because of someone’s age or gender or whatever that they don’t pose a threat would be misguided and wrong.”

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When we start suspecting five-year-olds of terrorism without any specific evidence, we have truly lost our way. I say this as someone who has by chance been close enough to several major terrorist acts to feel a very immediate chill. I commuted through the World Trade Center to the World Financial Center next door until two business days before 9/11. I visited the finish line of the Boston Marathon the day before the bombing. Many years ago, when living in England, I almost flew home for the holidays on the plane that was blown up over Lockerbie, but decided to travel elsewhere during my winter break.

I am also, however, the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants on my father’s side, and the great-granddaughter of them on my mother’s. My ancestors were not refugees, strictly speaking, but came to the U.S. from Lithuania and Russia, countries where Jews had long been marginalized and oppressed. They sought a better life and found it—unlike the many Jews who were turned away as they tried to seek refuge here shortly before and during World War II. My heritage and experience color my reaction to the ban—but no matter our backgrounds, we should all be outraged at this affront to our core democratic values.

Last year, my family and I visited the Statue of Liberty. One often-unrealized facet about her is that she is striding forward, right foot raised behind her. To me, this signifies that the freedom she represents is not static or passive, but requires us to take action, stepping up to help those seeking the protection of these shores.

The National Park Service, which runs the site, reminds us on its website, too, “A broken shackle and chain lie at the Statue’s right foot…. although the broken shackle is a powerful image, the meaning behind it was not yet a reality for African Americans in 1886 [when the Statue was dedicated].” Our liberty today is still not yet perfect, especially for people of color, and we must remember that even as we take heart in the positive symbolism of the Statue and the poem of Emma Lazarus inscribed in her base.

A mother weeps. But her tears do not weaken her; they nourish her resolve. She is “A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame/Is the imprisoned lightning.” She steps over a broken shackle and chain at her feet, knowing that simply breaking them was not enough. She strides forward with her light, hoping that others will follow.

Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.


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