Re-opening the Golden Door

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “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!”

These words, written by Emma Lazarus in 1883, are inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. As a daughter of immigrants, Lazarus was a strident advocate for immigrants — and, in particular, refugees fleeing oppression and war in the old world. 

It was therefore a punch to the stomach to see these words written on the U.S. State Department’s site for possible refugees from Afghanistan seeking to relocate to cities in the United States: 

Please be aware that the cost of living and the availability of housing can vary significantly in different locations across the United States. Some cities in California are very expensive places to live, and it can be difficult to find reasonable housing and employment. Any resettlement benefits you receive may not comfortably cover the cost of living in these areas. Unless you have close relatives or friends in these areas who are able to provide financial support and housing until you find employment that covers your living expenses, it is best to allow a resettlement agency to choose a suitable location for you. [emphasis added]

As the grandson of Irish immigrants myself, I still believe in the American dream — and its apotheosis here in the Golden State, the California Dream. Our state must be a place where anyone with a vision, or the need for a new start, or a desire to live near family, work, or natural beauty, can call home.

We’ve been riding a wave of legislative victories the past week, and I’m proud of the work California YIMBY has done to advance transformative, pro-housing legislation that will further the goal of making California for everyone.

But when we say everyone, we mean it. Of the 19 cities identified as suitable ‘welcoming communities’ by the State Department, not a single one is in California. If our state is turning away refugees — if our State Department is warning them against coming here — we still have a lot of work to do.

I hope you’ll join us.

— Brian