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Monday, July 14, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 8/8/2004

Huddled masses sent home

How ironic that at the same time the Statue of Liberty is finally reopened to visitors, the federal government has told 292 refugees from Montserrat, who fled a still-active volcano on their Caribbean island, that they must go home by February.

The rationale is Dickensian: The misery and devastation they fled is no longer temporary, but a new normal.

Homeland Security bureaucrats put it this way in a statement: "The volcanic activity causing the environmental disaster in Montserrat is not likely to cease in the foreseeable future. Therefore, it no longer constitutes a temporary disruption of living conditions that temporarily prevents Montserrat from adequately handling the return of its nationals."

How's that for government-speak?

Montserrat, a 39-square-mile British colony in the Caribbean, was formed by volcanoes. Its history and location have given it its share of disasters. A hurricane devastated the island in 1989. In 1995 volcanic eruptions killed 19 and buried the island's capital.

Most of the island remains uninhabitable, and volcanic activity is expected to continue for decades. The population has dropped from 10,500 to 4,500, the island's economy has been deep-sixed, and many residents still live in shelters. That's what we'll be sending people back to, including children born here to these "temps," who know no other home.

But the bureaucracy has decided arbitrarily that "temporary" has run its course. The decision has provoked cries of racial discrimination and basic inhumanity. We don't know about the former, but the latter is self-evident.

Americans don't turn their backs on people who are victimized by natural disasters, especially those on our geographic doorstep. They don't exile on principle American-born children who know no other country.

To be sure the Montserratians could go to Britain and seek citizenship there. But why should we oust productive people? Their status denied them government assistance and permanent resident status.

As Congressman Major Owens, a New York Democrat who has introduced a bill to grant the Montserratians permanent residence, pointedly asks, "Why can't we be generous enough to keep them in this hemisphere."



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