Our ferry cruised along on a sunny September day, the Manhattan skyline looming behind, as I peered ahead at the colossal statue before me.
She rose sea green from the harbor, holding high a beacon of hope to those who travel the seas. What I most wanted to see was inside the statue. There, deep in Lady Liberty’s pedestal, was the original plaque from 1903 bearing a poem written about the statue’s meaning by Emma Lazarus in 1883:
“The New Colossus”
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she
With silent lips. ‘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!”
Lazarus wrote this poem to help the fundraising effort for Liberty’s pedestal. The statue was a gift from France; the pedestal was funded by the U.S. A lack of American response prompted Joseph Pulitzer’s “New York World” newspaper to begin a fundraising campaign. Lazarus’ poem was printed in the paper and read at the opening of the fundraising exhibit.
Back on the ferry, I peered at the small island ahead of me: Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants were processed from the late 1800s to the early 1920s. My great-grandmother Inga Marie passed this way in 1907. What must she have thought when she saw Lady Liberty after weeks at sea? She was only 11. Perhaps an excerpt from an article written about her first visit back to Norway in 1953 gives insight into what Liberty meant to so many immigrants. She and her husband Knute visited Norway via ship and returned to the New York harbor three months later.
“The Statue of Liberty gave them the feeling of security and friendship as they entered New York harbor and were ‘home’ again. It seemed good to put foot on American soil once more,” reads the article originally published in the Fort Dodge, Iowa newspaper “The Messenger.”
I walked the halls of the immigration center on Ellis Island, now a museum. To think millions of people passed this way was impressed upon me by the deep impressions seen on the granite stairs — at its height, almost a million people took these stairs each year.
As we bounced aboard the ferry back to Manhattan, Lady Liberty became dwarfed in the backdrop of the 21st century.
The next morning, I opened the New York Times. About 10,000 migrants landed in Greece last month on dinghies, most fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan. About 400 children have died this year in a refugee camp in northeast Syria, mostly of malnutrition, pneumonia and dysentery. The president of Turkey, overwhelmed by 3.6 million Syrian refugees, threatens to let them pass through to Europe if the world doesn’t help.
The U.S. president threatens to slash the refugee program to zero. Over the last few years, one of the U.S.’s most vetted immigration programs has been whittled from the typical 70,000 to 30,000.
In 2020, it will be 18,000, the lowest since the program began in 1980. Other countries are beginning to follow the U.S.’s meager example.
The tired, poor, homeless, tempest-tost refuse of the world’s teeming shores is cast aside. They die. And deep inside, Lady Liberty cries.
Sara Marie Moore is editor of the Shoreview Press and Vadnais Heights Press. She can be reached at 651-407-1235 or email@example.com.