Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free

More than 5,500 miles of land and water separated our ancestors in Poggiomarino, Italy and Yongdong, South Korea. They spoke different languages, ate different foods, danced different dances, and prayed different prayers, but both families eventually came to the United States as immigrants. Living in a country of open doors, they raised their families, teaching them their own traditions while also absorbing American customs. And their families grew and flourished until their grandchildren ended up sitting next to each other in a high school journalism class in New York City, surrounded by children of other immigrants.

Our status as immigrants or children of immigrants shapes not only our cultural and familial dynamics, but also the way we interact with each other. Our families had to enter an unfamiliar land with nothing but the shoes on their feet and the fire in their hearts to work their way up, teaching us not only the value of hard work but also acceptance. If the U.S. hadn’t accepted our ancestors into its borders, none of us would be here today.

However, it seems the current government does not understand the value of acceptance. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday, January 27, that barred all Syrian refugees from entering the United States, brought to a halt all refugee admissions for 120 days, and stopped citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries (specifically Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) from entering the United States for 90 days. Already, green card holders have been held at airports in the countries affected.

To students who understand the immigrant experience in this country firsthand, Trump’s executive order and what it stands for is intolerable. Its logic is primitive: it’s supposed to prevent terrorists from entering the United States. However, The New York Times found that the plan is highly unlikely to reduce any significant threat of terrorist attack. According to Charles Kurzman, a University of North Carolina sociology professor, no one has been killed in the United States in a terrorist attack by anyone who emigrated or whose parents emigrated from the seven countries listed in the visa ban since the September 11, 2001 attack.

Conversely, The New York Times found that the order omitted countries whose people are historically known to pose a threat. It excluded Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups originated. 15 of the 19 perpetrators of the September 11 attacks were citizens of Saudi Arabia, for example.

It’s also crucial to note that despite the Trump administration treating the executive order as a reasonable step to reforming the vetting process for refugees, the current screening process is already extremely thorough. A person must first meet the basic definition of a refugee: they must be fleeing a country because of “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” Haeyoun Park and Larry Buchanan of The New York Times reported that they must then register, be interviewed, and get official refugee status with the United Nations, be referred for resettlement, have an interview with State Department contractors, get background checked, have an interview with Homeland Security officers, be screened for diseases, attend a class in cultural orientation, and then go through multiple security checks once they get into the country.

It’s not guaranteed that refugees will even get the chance to go through this process, since only the ones considered the most vulnerable get referred. The rest often spend years waiting in refugee camps. Some of the largest camps hold nearly two million people, yet only around 30,000 refugees have been admitted into the U.S. from October 1, 2016 to now. Obama’s goal was to admit 110,000 in the 2017 fiscal year. But Trump’s order halves the number of refugees allowed into the country, effectively closing physical borders and ridding the U.S. of the reputation as a country where one can create a new life.

The immigration ban is often referred to as the Muslim Ban for this reason, but such a ban is unconstitutional. President Trump cites the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows the president to “suspend entry…of any class of aliens” that he alone deems to be unsafe and against the best interest of the country. However, he conveniently forgets that three years later, Congress restricted this act by adding that no person could be “discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence” to protect immigrants and their families.

But regardless of the goal of the executive order, we will all feel its results. In the executive order, Trump implies that Islam is an inherently violent religion: he notes that “the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings [and] violence against women) and shortly afterwards lists Muslim-majority nations where such cruel people are supposedly coming from. This rhetoric is at best offensive and untrue, and at worst able to spark resentment and brutality against American Muslims. Similarly, Trump’s implication that Christian refugees will be prioritized over Muslims is abhorrent and not at all true to Christian value; the Pope is a strong advocate for the protection of refugees.

We are currently in the midst of a global refugee crisis, with about 64 million displaced persons worldwide. Syria contributes the most to this number by far. Now is precisely the time to be taking in refugees, especially since they place a huge strain on the already struggling governments of Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran, pushing them towards collapse, where they would become breeding grounds for even more terrorism.

Luckily, there are groups working to fight the executive order, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Iraqi men, one of which is Hameed Darweesh, who worked as a translator for the U.S. military and put his life in danger. He was detained at JFK Airport in New York by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and threatened with deportation. The ACLU states that his detention “based solely on the executive order violates their Fifth Amendment procedural and substantive due process rights as well as U.S. immigration statutes.” U.S. District Judge James Robart imposed a national hold on Trump’s executive order on February 3, which Trump is threatening to overturn.

As Stuyvesant students, it may seem like there is nothing we can do to alleviate the distress this will no doubt cause to some of our peers. And while we cannot alone change Trump’s decision, there are small things we can do to preserve the well-being of our fellow students.

First, now is the time to listen. Those who are not directly impacted by the ban should make an effort to hear and understand the feelings and fears of those who are. Just being there to listen to and comfort someone can make the coming ordeal slightly less traumatic for them. Anonymity at this time is really important, so these worries should not be publicized with the person’s name attached.

Second, we must stay politically active. Joining protests and writing articles are ways to get involved in the resistance against this policy. If you can, donate to the ACLU or any organization that works to protect refugees worldwide (the International Rescue Committee is one of many). Take just a half hour on a Saturday to make a call to a senator, congressperson, or other elected official to tell them that this is not what we stand for and should be fought in any way. Do not let Trump get away with this.

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