Published on 2017, Jan 28
I have some strong thoughts about immigration and social attitudes.
I woke up today in 2017 Utah. I'd had a long week at work, including twelve hours spent in the office on a company snow day, and was looking forward to a nice day of throwing myself down a mountain in the name of fear and fun.
Once of the nice things about Utah mountain ranges is that there's no cell signal in there, except intermittently at the top – just enough for me to post some pretty sick Instagram pics, but when skiing, the goal is to spend as little time as possible at the peak or with the phone out.
I went home, at about 17:00 Mountain Time, two hours behind the East Coast, and found myself in 1930 Germany.
An executive order had been issued that barred entry into the U.S. for any national of seven Middle Eastern states. This order was ostensibly justified by 9/11 and intended to increase American security, yet covered none of the states whose citizens were involved in 9/11 or any American terror event since. Furthermore, while this was ostensibly a ban solely on refugees and new immigrants – which was despicable enough – it was applied to Lawful Permanent Residents, who are on the path to citizenship and carry “green cards”, which are official U.S. identifying documents and proof of significant investigation and vetting.
Any moral person should be outraged by such a blatant discriminatory event. At no point in American history has an immigration exclusion law not turned out to be a terrible humanitarian decision. One of the most commonly referenced events was the American policy of turning away Jewish refugees in the '30s, and many of those refugees were later killed in the Holocaust. This action is especially despicable on America’s part because many of the affected countries are suffering ravages or war for which we are in part responsible. I am not decrying military action here, but if we are to claim that we are a civilized first world country with a strong moral imperative, we cannot deny humanitarian aid to civilians whose lives we damage or destroy as a result of our actions. Furthermore, we certainly cannot deny humanitarian aid to those whose lives are ruined by those we name the enemy.
This should sit poorly, to say the least, with any moral citizen. It certainly does with me. My revulsion is even stronger, however, given how close to home it hits.
This order affects people fleeing from states where the U.S. has been engaging in military action, and explicitly paints those nationals as “threats to American security,” based on events from fifteen years ago. I am not Muslim, nor do I have any heritage from these countries, so I am not directly impacted by this order.
I am, however, of German descent. During and after World War II, anti-German sentiment ran strong in America. German families fled a ruined Germany in the aftermath of the war. One such family brought my mother.
Fifteen years after World War II, President Eisenhower did not issue a ban on Germans, ostensibly to protect American interests against German aggression as seen in the War. Fifteen years after World War II, President Eisenhower did not issue a blatantly illegal, ill-considered executive order that sent my mother, a young girl born in West Germany in 1955, back to Germany while her parents were in New York City. Fifteen years after World War II, President Eisenhower did not strip my mother and her parents of their green cards under duress, did not demonize them as examples of German aggression threatening American safety, did not throw them back into post-war Germany despite the hope and promise of a better life in America.
I am alive today because in the 1960s, America didn’t quash immigration from the Axis powers. I am the child of an immigrant family, who endured Allied bombing raids on their home and livelihoods, who endured a dictatorial regime and left the rubble behind. I am the child of a family who came to America and are some of the most patriotic, enthusiastic Americans I know, because they remember the alternatives.
I refuse to accept that I have been blessed to have this life simply because my mother and her family got lucky to immigrate at a time when America wasn’t bothering to enact such bigotry and hatred against civilians remotely associated with an enemy from fifteen years ago. And I refuse to accept that years from now, a child of immigrants coming to America for a better life, a child who will be born a natural citizen and never knowing the hardship his parent fled, a child who should be just like me, is ceasing to exist because of such abhorrent actions today.
My life should not be a special case. I should not be lucky. I should not get to be an American simply because Mr. Trump wasn’t in power when my mother’s family made the crossing.
We should all stand against this despicable act because it is morally wrong. I certainly do. I also stand against it because the only thing keeping it from targeting me, is a matter of timing.
I have been given a tremendous blessing in my mother’s citizenship. I cannot stand idly by and withhold that same blessing from others in her shoes, who will have children who will hopefully be in my shoes.
I am not an immigrant. I owe my life to a German couple who braved the war and post-war hardships to bring their young daughter to America, and to the American society that accepted them, and to the man from a poverty-stricken Iowa family who did not see foreigners as Others, who loved her and married her and became my parents.
When someone says they hate immigrants from areas against which we have taken military action, they say they hate my mother. When someone rejects the premise that other people might deserve humanity, they spit in the face of my father. When someone says immigrants can contribute nothing to society, they say my life is worthless.
This isn’t an abstract problem. This isn’t something for other people to deal with. This affects all of us, in ways we may not even be able to comprehend at first glance. This affects me, and I will not stand for it. I will not accept that it is okay to arbitrarily classify immigrants, who may be anywhere from first contact to carrying green cards on their way to naturalization, as Others to be cast out. I will not state, in my thoughts or in my words, in what I have done or what I have failed to do, that I, a second-generation immigrant from a state with which America was recently at war, deserve a life that is being denied to those following in my family’s footsteps.
I sincerely hope that America does not become the country my mother’s family endured and fled. I don’t know what power I have to prevent that, but I know that I must do everything in my power to ensure that my family’s struggle was not in vain, and that the struggles of other families like mine are not either.
For many Americans, this is an abstract moral issue. I applaud those taking a stand even without a direct stake. For me, though, it’s personal.