Last week, a senior adviser to the president of the United States stood before reporters at the White House and quibbled with the famous words inscribed below the Statue of Liberty.
“I don’t want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty and lighting the world,” Stephen Miller said on Wednesday after a reporter suggested President Donald Trump’s plan to reduce and limit immigration was not in keeping with the spirit of Lady Liberty and the famous call to “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
“The poem that you’re referring to, that was added later, is not actually a part of the original Statue of Liberty,” Miller said.
The New Colussus was indeed added to the site in 1903, 17 years after the statue was officially raised in New York Harbour. But it was penned by Emma Lazarus in 1883 as part of a fundraiser to help cover the costs of building the base upon which the United States put its large gift from the French.
As Miller was attempting to parse the Statue of Liberty’s meaning, huddled masses were crossing a ditch from New York State to Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec, in hopes of finding new freedom in Canada.
About 60 kilometres north, Montreal’s Olympic stadium — another national monument, bestowed upon Canada by a Frenchman — was being converted into a temporary sanctuary to accommodate the influx of those seeking asylum.
Such scenes come seven months after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau famously tweeted a welcome to those yearning to be free.
To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada
So it might be tempting at this moment to suggest it is Canada, not the U.S., that is worthy of Lazarus’ words.
But, of course, ideals are easier versed in poetry, or a tweet, than put into practice.
“I think the message is very clear that Canada is a country that understands that immigration, welcoming refugees, is a source of strength for our communities,” Trudeau said on Friday, when asked about his message to the world.
But, he added, “protecting Canadians’ confidence in the integrity of our system allows us to continue to be open.”
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