Asylum or incarceration? Lady Liberty drops her torch

If you are like me, you’ve assumed Ladies Home Journal to be a magazine about flowers, gardens, fashion and diet always with a cover graced by, say, Brooke Shields or Faith Hill, so the cover is as far as most men ever get.

I stand corrected.

This month’s issue (April ’10) LHJ has a probing and disturbing human interest story about Isatu Jalloh, a young, female refugee who escaped brutal treatment in Sierre Leone and attempted to seek political asylum in the United States in the mid-2000s. The story begins:

Isatu Jalloh had never been on a plane in her life when, in October 2006, she made the two-day trip to Philadelphia from her grandmother’s village in Sierra Leone. As the airplane flew over New York City, the 18-year-old stared out the window, trying to see whether she could catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, that world-famous symbol of freedom for the oppressed. After living in a war-torn country, being raped by soldiers and mutilated by her tribespeople, Isatu hoped she was safe at last. Excited to be in America and exhausted from the trip, the nervous teenager handed her passport to an immigration official. ‘This isn’t a photograph of you,’ he told her. ‘I know,’ Isatu replied softly. ‘I would like to apply for political asylum.’

Please finish reading Broken Promises.

Having traveled internationally a fair bit in my life, I can tell you that, even with the economic issues facing the U. S., it remains the desired destination of millions around the world. While on the Kenyan plains, Maasi evangelists told me of their desire to come to America. Russian women marry American men so that they may come to the land of the free. Entire families cross Caribbean and Atlantic waters in vessels not-quite-seaworthy to escape oppression, the very act of which reaffirms America as the home of the brave. Elaborate systems of transportation, tunnels and river crossings have been devised, not only to run drugs, but to have a chance at making more than 5 dollars a day. Years ago, I worked alongside a number of green-carded Mexican landscape workers in Gwinnett County, GA who told me they were making more every hour than they could make in a day in Mexico (where they could not even find a job unless they bribed someone).

Yes, there is a reason many urban areas have “Little Mexico,” “Little Vietnam,” “Little Italy,” or “Chinatown.” It is a testament to the innate desire to live in freedom.

As Isatu Jalloh’s story reveals, beginning with Bush 41, expanding through Clinton and Bush 43, with, as far as I know, no changes as of yet under Obama, political asylum in the U. S. is becoming less of a reality for some fleeing persecution worldwide.

I remember the Cold War era when the news of someone defecting from Cuba, the USSR or East Germany was almost a badge of honor for Americans. “See?” we’d say. “Freedom is so much better than communism people want to live here. So a hearty ‘Welcome!’ to Arkady Shevchenko, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Martina Navratilova, and Nadia Comaneci, and a number of Cuban pilots who brought themselves and their airplanes to the U. S. in seeking freedom.”

If Isatu Jalloh’s story was isolated it would still be heartbreaking, but at least it would be isolated. If the LHJ article is accurate, not only is this not isolated it is policy.

Asylum seekers are routinely arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. According to Detention Watch Network, a human-rights organization, Isatu’s treatment was typical: Torture survivors and rape victims are locked up alongside hardened criminals in U.S. prisons, where they often remain for months, even years. This happens despite the fact that incarcerating asylum seekers is against international law.

But, hey, who cares about the law when a brutalized 18 year old girl, halfway around the world from her home, shows up seeking help?

“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!”

Thus speak the lasting words of Emma Lazarus on Lady Liberty’s base. If we do not soon demand that the government be held accountable to that promise, someone ought to procure a hammer and chisel–some re-writing might soon be in order.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • MG

    “There is none righteous, no, not one. All have gone astray. Our own righteousness, integrity, moral upstanding are as filthy rags.” Is there no church or synagogue or temple that could intercede or intervene in the behalf of legitimate cases like this poor child?
    I guess that the huddled masses that yearned to be free thought there wasn’t enought to go around for the next generation.
    I pray for an awakening for America…I think one would call it revival where terrorism and hatred are overcome by the Love of God. He did it once on the Cross for all; It’s still working!

  • Me

    Oh my god. I read this and we were talking about it in my world geo class and this is so sad. Poor girl. Our america has got problems if this is how we treat others.

  • Yet, we are happy to let illegal aliens pour across the boarder to work in our factories and fields because corporations can get cheap labor out of it. I am all for immigrants coming into our country and am especially for those coming for humanitarian reasons. I do wish that immigration law was applied equitably, however, and not just when it suited those who stood to benefit from it economically.

  • Heidi

    Alan, I totally agree–we allow illegals to come here and live off our system and drive illegally and have anchor babies and scam the system but when someone comes for a legitimate reason the government gets all in a snit fit. What is going on here??
    I am for LEGAL immigration and I agree with Arizona on ILLEGALS.