2.21.2011

Mother of Exiles

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-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Written by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) and inscribed on a blonze plaque with the Statue of Liberty:

In an opinion piece of the Portland Press Herald a while ago (sorry, lost the link), a trustee from a prominent nonprofit was defending his organization's work to aid refugees from an onslaught of negative comments in response to articles online. Like all expressions of apathy and hate, many locals' responses to the influx of refugees is based entirely on ignorance. The trustee dutifully debunked a number of myths about refugees in our country.

Like so many recent complaints from the masses - those opposed to aiding our desperate brothers and sisters from the other side of the planet are more often concerned with the fact that their taxes are being used to pay for it. Personally, if I have to be taxed there are few things I'd rather do with the money than help some people out.

Some alternative government expenditures include lining the silken pockets of foreign dictators; subsidizing British Petroleum; financing destructive wars that will yield no strategic or material advantage; spending as much (if not more) on a military than the rest of the world combined including the maintenance of hundreds of bases in hundreds of countries abroad; offering raises to congressional leaders; the CIA; Island taxis in Portland; on and on...

The fact of the matter is - refugees aren't that expensive. Certainly not when you consider how small refugee assistance spending is compared to the rest of government expenditure. The bulk of refugee assistance is paid for by the US State Department and estimated expenditure for FY2007 was about $750 million. Pennies. Not even. Total government expenditure in the United States was about $5 trillion the same year. That's 0.01% of government expenditure.

You might ask about welfare and assistance programs next of which refugees partake, right? Isn't that expensive too? Well, 60,000 refugees were admitted to the United States in 2008. Supplementary Security Income (or SSI, aka "welfare") was distributed to 7.6 million people in early 2009. Assuming all refugees received welfare (an over-estimation) they still made up less than 1% of recipients of SSI.

Fractions of pennies on the dollars that you pay in taxes goes towards refugee assistance in our country! I asked a man (I'm assuming it was a man, I could easily be wrong) if he had the money - would he pay to relieve thousands of people from years of political/social disenfranchisement, famine, war, genocide, squalor, rampant treatable disease, desperation, starvation. His answer was: we don't have the money.


Don't have the money? $750 million in refugee expenses equals $2.50 for every American. That's a cup of coffee! If you want to get technical, and only count the 138 million people who pay federal income taxes, that's still only $5.43. I should have reworded the question. If you could choose between buying a meal at McDonalds (or any other $6 purchase) or save 57 cents and contribute towards saving tens of thousands from sustained violence and absolute poverty - which would you do? (Never mind the fact that the money they get will be spent on food, clothing and other essential material goods and will go right back to producers and retailers who provide jobs for Americans.)

What's frustrating about the whole conversation is that we actually have to talk about money. Often the first thing from people's mouths is that it's too expensive; it's my money; it's bad for the economy! Some things you just do now because it's right. There are people suffering the worst atrocities we as human beings can experience -  beyond poverty -

Our country was founded by refugees, fleeing religious persecution. We brought home refugees from the holocausts and wars in Europe. I thought accepting the outcast and downtrodden was a point of pride for our nation.


1 Intelligent Comment(s):

Michael said...

I really don't know enough of this issue to weigh all the pros and cons of refugees in Maine - but what really clinches it for me is it's a superior form of foriegn aid. Instead of seeing the resources stolen by dictators, we know it's going right to the people to spend.

Post a Comment