We’re all in this together, folks

As we hurl headlong into another presidential nomination cycle, it’s an opportune time for all of us to step back and ask what our priorities as a nation should be, both inwardly and outwardly.

Technology is bringing everyone around the world closer together than ever before, making most of us aware of what’s happening a continent and more away.

We know, for example, that our global resources – air, water, food and shelter – are becoming more at risk every day and that war, political repression and poverty are driving more and more of the world’s population from their homelands.

Perhaps nowhere else has that desperation been so highly focused than in Europe where many thousands of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, North and West Africa, etc., for a chance to re-invent themselves and their families by crossing geographical borders … when and where they can.

Smugglers have profited from shipping untold numbers of migrants across the Mediterranean in flimsy, overloaded boats that are prone to capsize and drown its hapless passengers.

Australia has sent out its navy to turn away boatloads of migrants headed for its beaches.

Thousands of migrants have been intercepted this year trying to scramble through the Channel Rail Tunnel in hopes of making it through to England.

Negotiating land boundaries has led to further obstacles, as witness last week’s turmoil in Hungary where the government shut off access to the train station in Budapest where migrants hoped to board trains for the more friendly confines of … Germany!

Yes, the same Germany whose government, seven decades previously, had perfected its unique creation of ethnic cleansing in favor of a “super race” whose aim was world domination, is now – under Chancellor Angela Merkel – going out of its way to welcome and care for these new arrivals.

Italy and Greece are dealing, as best they can, to absorb those who survive the perilous sea journey.

And, believe it or not, tiny Iceland, with a population about the size of Cincinnati, has posted messages on social media inviting refugees to its shores. Several Icelander citizens have offered to take on the expense of airfare and accommodations.

Merkel, meanwhile, wants other members of the European Union to share in what she calls a “fair distribution” of the migrant swarms. And, as The New York Times noted in last Thursday’s edition, her country is looking to bolster its own dormant population.

Whatever individual countries’ motives for sheltering these desperate immigrants, it cannot be an economically easy burden to assume, no matter how well intended.

In 1980, the U.S. got a lesson in how to deal with immigrant arrivals during the Mariel emigration from Cuba when, as recounted by Wikipedia, an estimated 125,000 Cubans – spread among some 1,700 vessels – made their way to Florida. That same year, the federal government appropriated $100 million under the Refugee Education Assistance Act to expedite the immigrants’ adjustment to their new lives in the U.S. And further aid followed.

A small percentage of the Marielitos ended up in prison but most reportedly adapted well to their new surroundings, with many settling in the Miami area.

Although, initially, many of the new arrivals were placed in refugee camps, no walls were built to contain them permanently.

From our perspective, living in the northeast U.S., it is hard to imagine the prospect of being overwhelmed by vast numbers of newcomers of variant cultures suddenly clamoring for accommodations, employment opportunities and the right to become productive citizens. Of course, states like Texas and Arizona bordering Mexico have had their share of “incursions” so they have a somewhat different perspective.

Imagine, for the sake of argument, that one day, hundreds of homeless people – fellow Americans – set up tents in West Hudson Park. Not as part of an “Occupy Now” movement, not as victims of religious or political persecution. Just casualties of capitalism: well-meaning citizens seeking the American Dream but due to forces beyond their control – whether that be due to devastating illness, pushed out of the job market, single parents pushed over the limit.

Friends, that day is likely coming. Today, in this neck of the woods, you can see individual panhandlers on a highway roadside, straddling a park bench or begging on a subway platform. There are thousands of such unfortunates in New York. Who knows how many nationwide?

Let us not abdicate our societal responsibilities like some countries in Europe. We need to take care of our own people – as well as the newbies who continue to believe in Emma Lazarus’s words inscribed within the Statue of Liberty:

The New Colossus 

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-tost to me, 

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

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