Of Refugees, the Huddled Masses…and Home (A Poem)


Today has been surreal. President Donald Trump’s Executive Order has created chaos, anger and pain at many airports across the United States. Here are a few of the almost nightmarish occurrences, which unraveled on Twitter this evening. It went something like this:

A placard at JFK International Airport this evening. (Twitter)
A placard at JFK International Airport this evening. (Twitter)
  • On International Holocaust Remembrance Day (of all days) Donald Trump signs an Executive Order (EO) restricting immigration from certain countries: Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.
  • “We only want to admit those who will support our country and love deeply our people,” Trump said on Friday before signing the order at the Pentagon. “We will never forget the lessons of 9/11, nor the heroes who lost their lives at the Pentagon.”
  • NOTE: The 19 hijackers implicated in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks came from Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. None of those countries would be subject to what Mr. Trump described as “new vetting measures.”
  • Even before being signed, Trump’s EO halted refugee interviews and blocked US entry for students.

Passport-holders from those countries, who have American visas but are outside the United States, including green card holders who might be returning from a vacation or family visit for example, would not be permitted to return.

  • U.S. State Dept confirmed Canadians w/ dual citizenship from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, Yemen were also banned from US entry.
  • Large crowds gathered at JFK International Airport and other international airports in the United States, protesting the EO.
  • Civil rights activists and lawyers moved very fast. They were at JFK filing writs of habeas corpus for detained immigrants. Then Federal District Court Judge Anne Donnelly  signed an Order issued a temporary stay, blocking President Trump’s discriminatory policy from taking effect and preventing refugees and immigrants from being deported. Hats off to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Here is an article by its Executive Director Anthony Romero. “This is only the beginning,” he writes. “This is merely the first skirmish in a long battle to vigorously defend the Bill of Rights from the authoritarian designs of the Trump administration.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, himself descended from immigrants, tweeted: I never thought I'd see the day when refugees, who have fled war-torn countries in search of a better life, would be turned away at our doorstep. We are a nation of bridges, not walls, and a great many of us still believe in the words 'give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...' This is not who we are, and not who we should be. I have directed the Port Authority, the Department of State, and my Counsel's Office to jointly explore all legal options to assist anyone detained at New York airports, and ensure that their rights are protected. America is a nation of laws and those laws provide rights that must be respected and followed regardless of political ideology.
Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, himself descended from immigrants, tweeted: “I never thought I’d see the day when refugees, who have fled war-torn countries in search of a better life, would be turned away at our doorstep. We are a nation of bridges, not walls, and a great many of us still believe in the words ‘give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…’ This is not who we are, and not who we should be…America is a nation of laws and those laws provide rights that must be respected and followed regardless of political ideology.”

Many thousands – or rather, millions – of Jamaicans are immigrants, to the United States and elsewhere. I hope – I do hope – that we are also outraged as many Americans were today, for these thousands of desperate people leaving their troubled, ruined homes. Remember that quote from James Baldwin, in a letter to Angela Davis dated November 19, 1970: 

For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.

Warsan Shire.
Warsan Shire.

Warsan Shire is a 29 year-old Somali writer, editor, poet and educator. She was born in Kenya and migrated to the UK with her parents as a small child. She has lived primarily in Los Angeles since 2015. She likes to write about those who don’t always have a voice: immigrants, refugees and other vulnerable groups. For Beyoncé fans, her poetry featured prominently in the video Lemonade. 

Human rights activist Dr. Carolyn Gomes posted this poem today. It says everything there is to say about today’s cruelty, injustice and inhumanity. As the ACLU man says, the fight has only just begun.

Home, by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.

you only run for the border
when you see the whole city
running as well.

your neighbours running faster
than you, the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind
the old tin factory is
holding a gun bigger than his body,
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one would leave home unless home
chased you, fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.

it’s not something you ever thought about
doing, and so when you did –
you carried the anthem under your breath,
waiting until the airport toilet
to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that
you would not be going back.

you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.

who would choose to spend days
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles travelled
meant something more than journey.

no one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of
the boat because you are darker, be sold,
starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,
make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,
stripped and searched, find prison everywhere
and if you survive
and you are greeted on the other side
with
go home blacks, refugees
dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage –
look what they’ve done to their own countries,
what will they do to ours?

the dirty looks in the street
softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men who
look like your father, between
your legs, insults easier to swallow
than rubble, than your child’s body
in pieces – for now, forget about pride
your survival is more important.

i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home tells you to
leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.

no one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying
leave, run now, i don’t know what
i’ve become.

Reuters collected photos from each of the banned nations. Here are a few of them:

LIBYA: The 2011 Arab Spring uprising against Muammar Gaddafi and ensuing violence destabilized the nation. For two years, the Libyan National Army has waged a military campaign against Islamist-led opponents, including Islamic State who used Sirte as their Libyan stronghold. REUTERS/Hani Amara
LIBYA: The 2011 Arab Spring uprising against Muammar Gaddafi and ensuing violence destabilized the nation. For two years, the Libyan National Army has waged a military campaign against Islamist-led opponents, including Islamic State who used Sirte as their Libyan stronghold. REUTERS/Hani Amara

 

YEMEN: Yemen's 21-month-old war has killed more than 10,000 people and sparked humanitarian crises, including chronic food shortages, in the poorest country in the Middle East. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad
YEMEN: Yemen’s 21-month-old war has killed more than 10,000 people and sparked humanitarian crises, including chronic food shortages, in the poorest country in the Middle East. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

 

FLEEING SOMALIA: One million Somali refugees are living in exile in neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti and Yemen and some 1.1 million Somalis are displaced within Somalia, according to the United Nations. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis
FLEEING SOMALIA: One million Somali refugees are living in exile in neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti and Yemen and some 1.1 million Somalis are displaced within Somalia, according to the United Nations. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

 

FLEEING IRAQ: The offensive in Mosul drove an exodus of civilians from the latest frontlines in the war against Islamic State. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
FLEEING IRAQ: The offensive in Mosul drove an exodus of civilians from the latest frontlines in the war against Islamic State. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

 

 

SYRIA: While Assad's government forces have retaken most rebel-held regions, the fight against Islamic State continues as does fighting between rival rebel factions. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
SYRIA: While Assad’s government forces have retaken most rebel-held regions, the fight against Islamic State continues as does fighting between rival rebel factions. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

 


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