By Anita Teekah, NY Legislative Coordinator for Amnesty International USA
“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!”
These words were penned by American poet Emma Lazarus in 1883, but never have they been more poignant than right now. We are in the grip of the worst humanitarian crisis in global history, and yet, at the same time, we have seen increasingly nationalist rhetoric from numerous countries. This rhetoric is not only divisive and hateful, but also deadly. International law imposes an obligation on all countries to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers are not forced to return to situations where they would face persecution or other grave harm. There are currently millions of refugees and asylum seekers who have fled Syria, Iraq, Ethiopia and other countries and are being kept in limbo by a system that refuses to provide safe passage and resettlement.
The Trump Administration’s Muslim ban (both the original and revised versions) constitutes an illegal, unconstitutional and immoral ban on people from mostly Muslim countries, and also tries to suspend the flow of all refugees through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). While the Muslim ban is being litigated in various jurisdictions around the U.S., including possible future review by the Supreme Court, individual states have taken up the mantle by proclaiming that refugees are welcome.
New York has been a national leader in welcoming and resettling refugees and has resettled more than 5,028 refugees from more than 40 countries since October 2015. After months of work, the New York State Assembly has introduced and passed a Refugee Resolution (K630), sponsored by Assemblyperson Cahill, wherein Governor Andrew Cuomo proclaims June 20, 2017 World Refugee Day in the State of New York. A similar refugee resolution (3009) sponsored by Senator Peralta has been introduced in the New York State Senate and we are anticipating passage before the Senate recesses for the legislative term.
It seems fitting that the spirit of Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, inscribed on a plaque within the Statute of Liberty and intended to be a hopeful message for the waves of immigrants coming to America’s shores, is again inspiring deeply symbolic and desperately needed messages of welcome and hope to refugees and asylum seekers, our modern-day “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”