The TASC List: Beside the golden door

The 24th of this past November marks 60 years since two very good family friends made their way out of Hungary toward this land of freedom that we call America, and what was to become their future home. They had been students in Budapest, members of the rowing club, and caught up in the uprising that came to be known as the Hungarian Revolution.
“Around midnight, Agnes and I crossed the Austro- Hungarian border (minefield, electrified barbed wire, and a ploughed strip 30 yards wide to provide a clear field of fire for the border guards) and escaped from the Soviet system into Austria and the free world.” So Gabriel reported to me by email a week ago.
The revolt had begun as a student demonstration in central Budapest against an oppressive government with Soviet communist methods of intimidation, imprisonment and torture. It soon spread across the country until the Soviets launched an armored attack to crush the resistance and suppress public opposition in all quarters. Reports indicate that the conflict caused the deaths of almost 3,000 Hungarians and more than 700 Soviet troops. And 200,000 sought refuge from the aftermath.
A recent headline from the Wall Street Journal: “Thousands Flee Aleppo Amid Attacks (Living conditions deteriorate further as Assad regime bombs rebel-held parts of the city).” The estimates of refugees who have exited this scene of fighting have reached over 20,000. So in two examples of besieged populations separated by exactly six decades, we can get a small glimpse of those streams of civilization who constitute the hopes and prayers so eloquently addressed on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … I lift my lamp beside the golden door …” But, the streams are in many ways quite different. They include individuals with a wide range of characteristics, attributes, interests, and abilities. Gabe and Agnes, for example, were well educated and talented students — he a structural engineer and she a mathematician educated where John von Neumann had studied and taught. Despite deprivations and the physical demands of the World War II years in Budapest, enduring the nightly air raid bombings, food scarcities, and other ravages, and the fatigue and pressures of the 1956 uprising, they were able to reach the refugee camps and finally Vienna. After Sputnik’s impact in the U.S., the National Academy of Sciences was recruiting scientific and technical talent from among the Hungarian exodus, and thus offered its sponsorship to the couple, now married, for immigration to America. And here they prospered, recovered to full health, and became naturalized citizens in 1962. The golden door had opened wide for them.
In fact they contributed much of value to their new country. He authored several books and advanced the frontiers of scientific computing, process engineering, and distance learning. She rose to the executive ranks of the international YMCA and specialized in economic and educational development programs related to people and human needs. Her very own life experiences had formed those priority interests.
Today we are faced with many immigrants less fortunate in education and interests, with little dedication to achieving citizenship, and perhaps less desire for giving back. Should such elements of the present immigrant stream be considered differently? Should they be associated with such potentially threatening links as terror organizations, autocratic regimes, or non-integratable segments of society? Are they seeking freedom here — or something else?
These kinds of questions confront the developers of America’s new immigration policies and practices. They represent the complexity of the underlying dynamics. But a solution will soon be configured. And one hopes it will treat humanely and well both the Hungarian Freedom Fighter, and the Syrian rebel, and everyone in between.
The template for selection might include: 1) Genuine aspiration for life within a free society 2) in which they will seek citizenship and assimilation 3) while contributing to maintaining and improving that society 4) and work to reduce bloodshed and suffering around the world 5) so the stream is reduced, and the golden door remains open.

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