It Would Betray our Deepest Values

I’ve been crying a lot lately.

Last Friday, as news of the attacks in Paris was breaking, I was fighting with my landlord about heat in my apartment. When I told him the radiators didn’t turn on all night, a night that dipped into the low 30s, and he replied, “That’s impossible,” I broke down in tears. I honestly couldn’t tell you if they were tears for myself, shivering in my living room, or if the dam had broken on the fear and heartache elicited by the alarming headlines out of France.

As the week has progressed and we all watch the circumstances abroad play out, I’m still crying. And just to be clear, I don’t mean that figuratively.

I’m walking to work listening to news on the radio and tears stream down my face. I’m scrolling Facebook and see photos of Syrian children seeking refuge and a lump gets caught in my throat. I’m watching the worldwide response to the attacks, the outpouring of love and good will and I’m sobbing for humanity.

I realize how overdramatic that sounds. I promise it’s legit.

Candles in blue, white and red, the colors of the French flag, are placed in tribute to the victims of Paris attacks in front of the French embassy in Seoul, South Korea, November 14, 2015.   REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Most heartbreaking of all is the unsolicited outcry from a gaggle of Republican governors (and one Democrat) who’ve decided they have a say in federal immigration policy and are “closing their borders” to future Syrian immigrants.

I’m sorry, what?!

When Indiana’s governor made the proclamation, I didn’t bat an eyelash. This is the guy who had to backtrack on his homophobic lawmaking earlier this year, after all. Keep it classy, Indiana.

When Illinois’s governor got on board, though? Not OK. You do not speak for me, Mr. Governor, and if I had a second bedroom I would be opening it to a refugee tomorrow. (It’s that easy, right?)

I’d been listening to it all as hurtful and disappointing but ultimately meaningless political fodder. What could a state government actually do? Once you’re in the US legally, you can live anywhere you want. Right?

Then this story of a Syrian family bound for Indiana crossed my social feed. If you don’t click through, it’s ok. I’ll summarize: the charities arranging to bring a Syrian family, who had already passed exhaustive background and security checks to earn their refugee status, received letters from state agencies encouraging them to reconsider placing the family in Indiana.

Hold on. I can’t even type that without crying. I need a minute.

Is this what we’ve become? Is this how easily we spook, how lightly we take that promise etched into the Statue of Liberty to welcome the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free?

It’s one thing to puff up your chest and posture for the sake of a headline. We all but expect it of our politicians. It’s entirely another to threaten to withhold federally-funded services to a family who’ve just traveled half a world away from home in order to build a better future.

Thankfully, the good people of Connecticut stepped up and found the family a home, rallying at the last minute change of plans.

This cannot be the state of things. This cannot be how we treat our fellow man. We can…we must do better.  Where are the voices of sanity in this cacophony of fear and judgement and xenophobia?

Cue the happy tears.

Yesterday morning, NPR introduced me to the governor of the great state of Washington, a man who has his head on straight. As I listened to him explain his perspective, I could practically feel my broken heart mending. I encourage you to listen to the whole interview, but he states it so clearly, so perfectly:

And we are a nation that has always taken the path of enforcing our freedom, our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our humanity, our relationship with the rest of the world. And we’ve hewed to those values, even in troubled times. And when we haven’t, we’ve regretted it.

It gets better. Rebuking the governor here at home, the Chicago City Council proposed a resolution resoundingly welcoming all refugees to the city, a world-class metropolis stronger for its diversity of heritage and beliefs.

And as he has a way of doing, President Obama has perhaps said it best of all. In speaking for every compassionate, open-hearted American, he reminds us of the depths of our hospitality, a value rooted in the very founding of the country and one more important now than ever.