Challenges we face in an environment of hostility and uncertainty
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
[Excerpt from Keynote Address to the Washington Mid-Town Lions Club
Annual Charter Ball – New Carrollton Maryland, October 27. 2018]
The Lions are famously known and appreciated as a service organization; an organization which brings vision and comfort to those who are challenged to see, and to those who suffer inhumane and depraved conditions.
I understand that the Lions got their name because they embodied “strength, courage, fidelity and vital action.” Your mission, as I understand it, is to serve your communities through volunteerism; to meet the humanitarian needs of those less fortunate, who are suffering from conditions often not of their own choosing, and over which they have very little control. Importantly, your mission serves to encourage peace and promote international understanding.
In today’s environment, I use the platforms afforded me to try and bring understanding to those who are challenged by the truth; to enlighten those who deny facts and embrace ignorance over knowledge and morality. I implore you to join with me in bringing light into the darkness of their existence.
In July of this year I addressed a group in Rochester, NY and used the opportunity to talk about the many challenges facing Caribbean and other immigrant communities in today’s America. In my speech “The immigrant’s Challenge: One Love – One Family” I highlighted the many challenges we face as immigrants in today’s unusually hostile environment. I also emphasized the importance of love for our fellow human beings, and the fact that no matter our countries of origin and socio-economic status, we are one human family.
In this toxic environment we are all challenged, not just as immigrants or members of the Diaspora community, but our entire society is challenged by this unprecedented period in American history. It is a period in which truth no longer seems to matter to many people, especially to those who speak from positions of high privilege and power. We are living in a period where hate for those with whom we disagree, or whose skin color is black or brown, is reflected in threats and violence. We are living in a period where the leadership of this country has failed the moral tests of our time and is contributing to conditions which drown out the hopes and dreams of a society characterized by ‘One Love’: a society defined by the concept that we are ‘One Family’ of humans inhabiting this earth.
In the past couple of weeks we have seen this hate borne out by events which threaten the fabric of freedom and democracy in America. In the past year and a half we have seen this hate targeting members of the immigrant community and potential immigrants.
We cannot be bystanders and allow this new paradigm in American society to become the norm. We cannot allow the society in which we live and raise our children and grandchildren descend into a state of decadence.
As Mahatma Gandhi said many decades ago, “We must become the change we want to see.”
The inconvenient truth is that many of us have forgotten that this country is a land of immigrants and have allowed the message on the Statue of Liberty to lose its meaning; more so for people of color. The United States no longer welcomes the ‘tired’ and the ‘poor’, or the ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’
The message from the current occupant of the White House contradicts Lady Liberty and now say don’t send me your ‘homeless’ and those fleeing tyranny and poverty are no longer welcome. If you cross our border we will put your children in cages and we will put you in jails. We will separate you from your children and you may never see them again. We will send you back to your country even if it means to your certain death. We will not abide international humanitarian standards and allow you to tell us about the life threatening conditions you are fleeing and your claim to refugee status, or offer you asylum and refuge in ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave.’
We will use the power of the most powerful military force in the history of the world to stop 7,233 unarmed, harmless men, women and children from crossing our borders. In the caravan about which so many lies are spoken and so much fear is spread, there are 2,234 women and 2,307 children. The conditions they flee are so life threatening that they are prepared to walk 2,800 miles from Honduras, their country of origin, through difficult weather conditions with very little food or water, lack of basic amenities, and without access to health care. Their goal is to reach the United States border to make their claim as refugees and to be given refuge in the land of liberty and the land of the free.
Haters, immoral political leaders, and right wing media would have us believe that these 7,233 Hondurans, mostly women, boys and girls, pose a security threat to the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone not troubled by this lack of human decency and morality, do not have a place among the human family.
Those who are not moved by the images of helpless people who are fleeing tyranny, economic deprivation, and a host of inhumane adversities, only to be met with inhumane treatment from those from whom they expected mercy, do not have any place in humanity. We see people seeking to enjoy the political and economic freedoms America offers to those who strive for a life free from fear and free from want; a safe and secure environment in which to raise their young families, now being caged like animals.
Every immigrant has a stake in how these refugees are treated. Every immigrant in this country, in particular immigrants of color, including immigrants from the Caribbean have a reason to be fearful of how new immigrants and potential immigrants are treated. We are all vulnerable in today’s America. I repeat what I said in Rochester New York in July this year:
“The current threats to immigrants should be a clarion call for people of Caribbean heritage in the diaspora to recognize the importance of working together as one Caribbean in addressing issues that affect all.”
I extend this call to the Lions, indeed to all Americans who believe in humanity and the dignity of the person, no matter from whence they originate.
In today’s America we must focus attention to issues of human rights which have emerged in the forefront of political discourse in the United States in recent months. These critical issues have created a period of misery and a sense of hopelessness in many immigrant communities across the United States. They fear the mid-night knock on the door; they fear being taken off a bus as they commute to work.
In the past, America welcomed immigrants from the Caribbean and elsewhere and our contributions to the development and security of the United States, since the Revolutionary War, have been well-documented in U.S. history. We have been recognized for our service and contributions, we have been appreciated, and we have raised our children to be a part of the American dream and to succeed in this country. This has been the norm for generations of Caribbean immigrants.
Most of the immigrants who came to the United States were able to do so because of the laws which favored family reunification. Those now opposed to immigration have chosen to describe family reunification as ‘chain migration.’ They try to disparage the current family-based system. Don’t be misled by this new name and what the call to end ‘chain migration’ really means. It’s a call to end family re-unification in current immigration laws and replace it with a merit-based system. Merit-based immigration has racial overtones. It favors immigration from Europe and limit immigration from the south, including from Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean. Under a merit-based immigration system there would be an increase in brain drain from the south as only those with high qualifications would be able to migrate to the United States.
My concern for current and emerging threats to the Caribbean immigrant community is borne out by the anti-immigrant policies of the current Administration in Washington. When we are silent and inactive, policy changes take us by surprise and negatively impact our families and communities. As immigrants and children of immigrants, members of the Caribbean Diaspora have earned a stake in America. Our historical contributions from service in every facet of America’s development – from the Revolutionary War and in every war since then we have fought to defend and preserve the freedom and democracy of this country. We have a right to benefit from what America has to offer.
We cannot be mere onlookers when we see discrimination against immigrants and potential immigrants. We have provided succor and comfort to Americans from the cradle to grave; we have served in some of the highest offices in federal, state and local governments. We have earned the right to be heard. We share the same concerns of people of goodwill; people of high moral standards; people who believe in the dignity of the human family. These principles are worth fighting for.
In less than two weeks there will be elections which will determine the future of the United States for decades to come. Some of you may have already taken advantage of early voting. Those who have not yet voted, please vote. As you cast your ballot, please do so to preserve humanity over political affiliations. Many lives and the future of America depend on it; it just might be your own or your friend’s or your coworker’s.
I am not here to tell you which political party to vote for. Vote as a Lion who believes in the dignity of the human person; vote as a Lion that believes in serving and protecting those less fortunate; vote as a Lion who believes in humanitarianism.
When you vote think about the Statue of Liberty and what America has stood for over the centuries. Vote to preserve the beacon of hope America has become. Reject the evil that seeks to control this country and which fosters hate and discrimination. Most of all, vote your conscience.
© 2018 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post