Those words engraved in the base of the Statue of Liberty that greets immigrants at the entrance to New York harbor have known round the world since 1886. Upon its inauguration, the African American Cleveland Gazette suggested that the original torch must remain substituted by a copper one until the United States became a free nation “in reality”. In 2019, Americans of good faith are wringing their hands over the treatment being of babies and young children whose parents seek asylum from the gang-crazed countries American politicians used to call ‘our backyard’.
However, I’m hearing no systematic criticism of the way the United States has kept its backyard since the Monroe Declaration of 1823 banned other ’civilized’ nations from interfering there. Pundits focus on President Trump’s policies toward populations fleeing the gangs that replaced governments beholden to American sugar and tropical fruit companies. Their failure to indict 200 years of American history toward Latin America goes hand in hand with benign neglect toward the weaker members of society.
Whatever their sins may be, the governments of Europe, and even of most developing countries, would not keep children in the conditions that prevail at the US’s southern border. As a way to discourage Latino immigrants, the US has has mandated that children be separated from their parents while their applications for asylum are being reviewed. The separation policy began under President Obama, but with rising numbers, the Trump administration has failed to ensure basic necessities. Infants lack diapers, they do not even have soap, much less showers, and are sleeping on the floor with what are said to be aluminum covers, six year-olds doing their best to care for the babies.
Outsiders have been prevented from entering these facilities, what the outspoken democratic socialist representative from the Bronx, however enough evidence has leaked out to alert the press to a failing that mocks the government’s declared Christianity. However it lacks the ideological grounding that would enable it to make the connection between the condemnation of socialism and this behavior. When the fiery young representative from the heavily Hispanic Bronx, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, compared the ‘detention facilities’ to ‘concentration camps’, critics piously pointed out that these latter are different from ‘death’ camps, instead of admitting their appalling conditions.
The fact is that the hundred year-old theoretical debate over socialism has by-passed its civilizational attitudes, which considers children to be the responsibility of all, with government providing safety and security as well as education. During my 2017 trip to Russia I was struck by the fact that parents with toddlers — and even infants in carriages! — were led to the front of airport boarding lines, before realizing that this is a logical corollary of the safe nurseries and individual vaccination booklets that typify social democratic countries.
With a century of delay over the rest of the world, the debate over socialism is finally becoming louder in the land of the ‘free’, but it will take decades for Americans to internalize its civilizational implications. For the time being, it takes an order by a federal judge to ensure that babies in prison get soap and diapers.
Deena Stryker is an international expert, author and journalist that has been at the forefront of international politics for over thirty years. She can be reached at Otherjones. Especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.