By Matt Keppel
As the arrival of Pope Francis to his first trip to the United States via Cuba is upon us, I thought it might be good to re-visit the current policy of the United States toward Cubans, and the rest of the world for that matter.
All of us have seen the photo of the Syrian boy drowned, washed up on the shore. It’s absolutely heart-wrenching, an image that helped to solicit change in the way that the EU is dealing with refugees from war-torn Middle Eastern countries. The Pope, himself, has called for the Vatican to take in, and support families seeking asylum. All of this from a picture! What was the photo really, though? It was an image of our shame as people. It broke our hearts to see that helpless child devoid of life, emptied. And here we stood in the United States, wagging our collective fingers at Europe. How could they let those innocent people die? What could have possessed those people to turn away those in need?
How right we were to ask those questions, for they are the right ones. Why would anyone turn someone in need away? Why wouldn’t you help someone who has nowhere else to go? How dare they! And yet, how dare we.
As Pope Francis flies from Havana, Cuba to Washington, D.C., he will fly over many trying to cross around 150 miles of sea from Cuba to Florida in search of lives that are not governed by the Castros. That is nothing to say of the thousands trying to cross the deserts that divide Mexico from Texas, Arizona, and California; or the other many thousands using whatever they have to get into this place that advertises to provide for a better life. The thing is, those people coming here, truly believe it. They believe it that they sell themselves into indentured servitude. They allow themselves to be duped by coyotes. Many of them believe it and want a better life so badly, that they are willing to die for it.
I know that my ancestors didn’t have it quite so bad. Whether it was my Austrian and German relatives having foresight, that my Irish family spoke the language, or simply being Scottish and Welsh; these people had an advantage, however slim, of coming from Europe (even though some of them weren’t necessarily welcome). My ancestors took a risk coming to this country for a better life; those people crossing oceans and deserts take even bigger risks for the sake of hope; but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can make it easier, or at least more humane.
President Obama took steps to alleviate some of the pain of immigration by legalizing the immigration of millions of undocumented immigrants last November. And yet, more needs to be done. First, we start by taking a page from Francis: what would it cost to house or support a family in need? Second, this is a country build on the backs of immigrants, that has never really cared for immigrants: what will it take to change our own hearts and minds to help those seeking a better life?
If not for love of human life, then maybe in memory of our ancestors. Were it not for the United States of America, the Keppel’s would have suffered through the senseless bloodbath of the First World War, and the Shea’s through the Irish Potato Famine (Massacre). Were it not for the United States allowing immigrants, even tacitly, I would not be here writing to you today, nor would many of you be reading this.