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Wednesday, July 10, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service
Op-Ed

The Old Colossus

June 14, 2024

Have you ever been an exile? Sad and lonely? Friendless? An emigrant?

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

If you spray poison into a nest

and the critters in it flee elsewhere,

then who is to blame? You and your poison,

or the animals who fled the nest?


And if you stomp the animals fleeing the nest

and you kill some, but can’t kill them all,

is it fair to complain because the animals

get under your thin skin, and make it itch?


Do you know where Honduras is? Could you

find it on a map? Or Guatemala?

Did you know the capital of Honduras is

Tegucigalpa? Do you know how to say the word?


Have you ever seen a human cadaver,

with its face skinned, genitals in its mouth,

executed by police, or the army:

Can you imagine what that’s like? Just to see it?


And if you did see it, who would you call?

The police? The National Guard? The Army?

Why would you call them? Why would you tell them

your name?


Why would we refuse their widows and children succor?

Why would we say that these refugees, whom we

and our corporations helped create, should be

thrown on a trash heap, into a boneyard, like an Aztec, or a Sioux?


Do you understand what I am saying?

Can you understand it? With your TV blaring

and the internet at your beck and call?

I don’t think you do. Habla Español?


Do you understand what I am trying to say?

Long ago, when I was a cub reporter,

I met a torture victim from El Salvador.

He asked me if I knew why there was war


in his country. He did not let me get away

with mindless bullshit. “Why is there war?” he asked.

I had no idea. “Why is there war?” I asked;

he said, “Hunger.”


(Courthouse News columnist Robert Kahn wrote the first history of U.S. immigration prisons: “Other People’s Blood: U.S. Immigration Prisons in the Reagan Decade,” Westview/Harper Collins, 1996.)

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