Some 2,300 years ago, the ancient Greek city of Rhodes built a monument. It was tall, around 100 feet high, and celebrated Rhodes’ victory in its war with Cyprus. As such, it was a celebration of military strength and economic prowess.
It collapsed 54 years after it was finished, but ever since it has captured the imagination of many. After all, it was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It’s called the Colossus of Rhodes. Google it, and you will see what I mean.
So why do we care about some 2,000-year-old collapsed statue? Because 130 years ago, a poet wrote about a New Colossus. This colossus was new in many ways. It was taller, more resistant to the earthquakes which destroyed the original, and it represented something far different than a military victory. It was placed on the symbolic doorstep of a new nation, which had been built by immigrants. It was placed on the doorstep of a growing democracy that was quickly turning into a guiding light in the world.
The New Colossus was not an ode to an ancient sun-god, but to Liberty. She held a torch, not a sword, and a tablet which celebrated a date some of you may know: July 4, 1776.
The New Colossus was built to celebrate a new nation and its commitment to democracy, equality and freedom of opportunity. The designer and his supporters found hope in this new nation in a time when their own country, France, was recovering from a coup and building its third effort at a republic in 100 years. The nation that received this gift represented the designer’s hope for France, and his support for the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence signed on that day in 1776.
So when Emma Lazarus, a poet, was asked to help raise funds for the statue, she saw in her mind’s eye the New Colossus. There it was, sitting in New York Harbor, welcoming millions of immigrants who had left their homes to make a new life in a land that promised opportunity and equality. She wrote she saw, “Not the brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs” but instead the “Mother of Exiles” who welcomed all to her shore.
“‘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-tost to me!’”
Now, the United States has never entirely lived up to this ideal. We have struggled with slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese-American internment and racism. But the words immortalized in Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus” are undeniably the ideal of America. The idea that people can travel here, leaving behind gangs, unsafe living conditions and poor opportunities to make a new life has long been the American Dream.
The United States has had difficult conversations about immigrants before, but the new policy of the Trump administration has taken our treatment of immigrants to drastic lows. The unconditional, zero-tolerance policy of separating children at the border makes a mockery of our American ideal of equality of opportunity for all, while also earning condemnation from around the world. While our immigration and border policies need to be reformed, this policy on its own deserves a quick and complete denunciation.
President Trump has backpedaled, and watered-down the policy, but we as Americans need to demand this policy be legislatively prohibited. Otherwise, the tired and poor of our communities will need to find another New Colossus, because this one will have abdicated its position as a moral leader of the free world.
Landon Troester is a student at the University of Utah Honors College, double majoring in teaching history and business management.