Opinion | The Golden Door


By A. Michael Snyder

When we were small children, we learned a song in elementary school that I later learned contained the words of Emma Lazarus’ great sonnet inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. For those who may have forgotten those words — and the symbolism of where they were placed —

I repeat them here:


“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.”


America has always been, at least until very recently, a nation that welcomed those who fled hunger, poverty, fear, torture and violence, and who came here in search of a better life. We understood that our nation grew stronger when we welcomed those who were committed to our values and who were willing to sacrifice to provide a better life for their families.

We understood, as a people, the value of a strong family structure. Indeed, the welfare of our children has always been a priority for Americans.

And yet, it appears that there are those in our government who believe that these words and protections only apply to some and not to all. These individuals believe that it is just and proper to imprison families who fled terror, violence, poverty and hunger merely because they did not enter this country with proper documentation. These individuals believe that it is appropriate to separate children from their parents, imprisoning them separately or destroying the family structure. These individuals seem to be willing to demonize undocumented immigrants as criminals or less than human, and therefore to justify their actions against these poor souls.

The damage that these actions have caused, and will cause, will irreparably alter the fabric of our nation. No amount of therapy is likely to cure these children of the damage they have suffered.

It is time for each of us, as Americans, to think once again of Lazarus’ words. It is time for each of us to use our strong voices in protest against these practices. It is time for each of us to remember what has made America special: We are a nation of immigrants who believe in the rights of others, who understand that we have an obligation to protect those who cannot protect themselves, and who understand that only our free voices can cause positive change in the policies being espoused by our elected leaders.

Let us never allow the “golden door” to be closed to those who knock. 

Michael Snyder is a retired judge in Philadelphia and president of the Louis D. Brandeis Law Society Foundation.


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