A Reset for America: Compassion and Justice in 2016

It should be no surprise that America is so torn about whether to welcome refugees or to spurn them. This split, also evidenced in how we treat our own marginalized populations, dates to our very inception as the flawed realization of a noble idea.

Inspired by photograph from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

This disjunction between our national vision and the abhorrent means often enlisted in its implementation is central to the “America” project. It helps explain many citizens’ willful blindness to the glaring contradictions destabilizing today’s America and the blistering denials of any possible stains on our perfection.

Yet far beneath the glistening high-rises and sleek billboards, on the ground in our far flung cities, small towns and at our borders, women, men and their children are screaming in pain. Their plights and plaints are much the same; the urgency of their shouts force upon us the realization, at last, that:

Our long neglect of those in need here at home can no longer be separated from our refusal to be moved by those in desperate need at our very gates.

Those better angels, as embodied in our Bill of Rights, our ubiquitous houses of worship and charity, and in wisdom as old as Jesus and Hillel, would have America leading, both in welcoming those fleeing well-documented torment abroad and in serving those among us who suffer for lack of decent nutrition, healthcare, shelter, education, economic opportunity or safety from violence.

But we are not leading.

Rather, we’ve ratcheted up the machinery of hate, jacking up the inputs of fear and suspicion to sufficient levels of toxicity to divide us along class, ethnic, color, gender and religious lines and to blot out any possible identification with those seeking refuge, in poverty or simply different. In pulverizing the idea of a multicultural America, this widespread hate-mongering threatens our ability to hear or respond to those in pain.

It’s too late for apologies.

The simple reality demands that we stanch this lethal bleeding today, with all means at our disposal, to stop this transgenerational crime of inequity with this generation. At the same time, the urgent call of those seeking asylum affords us the opportunity to show who we are as a nation — one nation — by offering safe harbor and a thoughtful path to citizenship to those betrayed in their homelands by brutal leaders, gangs or fundamentalist fanatics.

The fastest way forward to meet this dual call?

This is not complicated.

Implementing this program will save money long-term while marking the healthy beat of America’s enormous heart.

Founder & Executive Director of WomenStrong International. Director of Millennium Cities Initiative at Columbia University.

Founder & Executive Director of WomenStrong International. Director of Millennium Cities Initiative at Columbia University.