Immigrants and Refugees Don’t Subtract from America—We Are America
(Editor’s note: this is a condensed version of a terrific essay published on Medium last month.)
My mom and I arrived in Los Angeles on the eve of Christmas Eve 1995. I remember the city more than the airport. It seemed so easy, gliding from the terminal through customs straight to the golden doors — even with a Jordanian passport, even with Mohammed as a middle name. Back then, coming to America had been so simple that embracing my mother’s uncle in a new language in a new land seemed perfectly normal. The drive to Union City in his little white pickup truck so uncomplicated that it was practically forgettable.
In 2002, we applied for our permanent residency — to be citizens-in-waiting. We were denied. Applied again, but we were denied. We were denied. We were denied. They claimed we were denied on a number of technicalities but the truth is that we applied as Arab nationals in the months after September 11. Tens of thousands of dollars later, we were placed in deportation hearings. We faced a federal judge. Despite our incompetent lawyer’s best efforts to mess it up, our case was administratively closed; we had been deemed not a priority by the state.
When you apply for a green card, you have to give up your previous status and claims to past citizenship. You literally become a person with no country. No one really talks about this arcane requirement and the burden it places on individuals and families, often assuming that the process shouldn’t take that long. In 15 years, though, I haven’t been able to travel abroad for fear of being denied re-entry. I’ve missed grandparents’ funerals and cousins’ weddings, business trips and trips home.
Donald Trump’s executive actions—his travel ban—made this requirement a reality for nearly half a million permanent residents and stoked anger among immigrants and non-immigrants alike. Within hours, protests sprang up at airports across the country.
The marching, the yelling, the confrontation felt like a kind of action. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Governor Jay Inslee’s continuing fight against the Trump administration feels like hope. But it’s easy for me to say that; I get to hold my American children today and tell them I love them.
From the injustices against the people of first nation to the 3/5 compromise to every wave of immigration ever, the American experiment has been one of making our people whole. Donald Trump’s executive order and Republican capitulation to his order is an utter rejection of these values.
Even if you are not an immigrant or a child of one or married to one or work with one, you’re in this boat now too. Whether you fully grasp it, your identity is at stake. Who you fundamentally are is in question, and who you could be has already forever been altered. Our identities are intertwined in this. Your exceptionalism. Your beacon of hope. From the grand idea to the cliche. The very triteness of the American melting pot. The “give me your poor, tired, huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This is all at stake. You get to decide.
Starting today, we are either the people that rejected this cruel idea or tacitly endorsed it through silence.