By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders
I remember the powerful image of an anguished female student standing over the bloodied lifeless body of a fellow Kent State College student killed by National Guardsmen during the Vietnam War protests. I remember the picture of the lone Chinese protester blocking a tank rolling through Tiananmen Square during that country’s crackdown on democracy. And who can forget the image of Neil Armstrong stepping on to the lunar surface with his giant leap for mankind 50 years ago next month? Such photographs capture a moment in history and became etched in our collective psyches. They also shape the way Americans feel about important events and shape policy issues to come.
It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In an instant, it can define a policy debate or provide instant clarity to a complicated issue with its powerful graphic. And so it was last week.
Who amongst us was not moved to tears while viewing the father and his daughter both drowned in their perilous attempt to make it across the American border because all other entries were closed off? This was a parent desperate to escape his country’s violence and secure a better life for his daughter and family. Every parent can understand that impulse. This father was certainly not of the criminal element as President Trump has tried to depict all immigrants from Central America.
The pride of America is that this country was known as the place where people could seek a safe haven from oppression. The land where opportunity and freedom were assured for those willing to work for it. The country that extended its welcome with a sense of compassion and understanding for the plight of the migrant. It was true from the very beginning of our republic when so many fled the religious persecution of “old world” or the desperate famine of Ireland or those seeking relief from impoverishment. It is our unique history. It’s what made America exceptional. It is who we are as a people.
But President Trump says those Central American countries are “not sending us their best.” Two problems with that statement. Firstly, countries don’t “send” anyone. That is a decision made by the individual or the family. And every wave of immigration dating back centuries has been comprised mainly of the poor or persecuted, not the elite. That is the fundamental truth of immigration.
The inscription on the Statue of Liberty attests to that. It is the tired and the poor, the huddled masses, the wretched refuse yearning to breathe free who flee their homelands in search of a better future for themselves and their children. It is what has made this nation the beacon of hope, and most admired and envied throughout the world.
It is fitting that we reflect on all this today, July 4 our Independence Day. For this is the day in 1776 when arguably our great American democracy was born with the words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
By demonizing immigrants in pursuit of those God-given unalienable rights, by separating families, and aggressively uprooting people living in this country, mostly peaceably for years, President Trump is belying our very heritage as a nation of immigrants, and making tragedies such as the one depicted here more likely.
Yes, this picture speaks a thousand words. In stark contrast, our president who comments on everything big and small had nothing to say.