President Donald Trump’s executive order denying refugees and immigrants entry into America solely on the basis of their nationality has reverberated around the world. While we should not be surprised [Trump is simply fulfilling campaign promises unlike many “politicians” do] we should be very concerned. Banning good human beings strictly because they are of a certain nationality is an institutionalized form of racism and discrimination, the very hate we claim to stand against.
I feel the need to say something about this because immigration is close enough for me to feel it. And when one immigrant suffers, all immigrants and all of those close to them suffer as well. That’s the beauty and the pain of being human and living in this world.
My mother immigrated from Jamaica at the age of sixteen. Her mother [my maternal grandmother] sent her to New York because she felt her daughter could have a better life there. Eventually, my grandmother and my uncle immigrated to America as well. This country has afforded immigrants like my relatives the opportunity and privilege to live, work, and play in a land that actually values freedom, peace, and civility.
Right now, our country is far from the values that we’d like to envision we have. A blanket ban says a lot about who our country’s leaders are and what is most important to them. The things that have been lost in the muddled transition of power include the fact that we are all in one way or another, immigrants or related to immigrants. We don’t fight to enter into other countries the way people fight to get into America. That’s because America is supposed to be the “lamp beside the golden door” embracing “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
The Statue of Liberty stands on Liberty Island in New York Harbor for a reason. It means the same things today that it meant when my mother arrived. It’s a symbol of hope, freedom, opportunity, and faith. It is a reflection of openness, tolerance, and diversity. It is not a permission slip to keep a five-year-old child separated from his parents who are not terrorists. It is not a voucher to keep friends and family stranded all over the world unable to go to their native homes or to their new homes. It is not a ticket to generalize ALL people as one way or another. What ALL people are is human, deserving of respect, dignity, and hope, deserving to “be received like Christ” as St. Benedict would say.
While the ban is reportedly not about religion but “about terror and keeping our country safe”, there are better ways to go about keeping the country safe without infuriating people and keeping up chaos. I thought the goal was to “make America great again”. I don’t think we’re off to just a good start.
First, we really need to be more concerned about homegrown terror than any other form of terror. There have been no terrorist attacks since 9/11 by people from any of the seven countries banned. No refugees have carried out terror attacks in the United States. There have been over twelve terror attacks planned and executed by people already on U.S. soil. Since 9/11, America has experienced more tragic attacks by people already within our borders than those outside of our borders. We need to be careful lest we win the battle but lose the war.
Second, we must stop making Islam synonymous with terrorism. Islam is at its core a peaceful religion, like Christianity and Judaism. Terrorism is at its core an act of evil that emanates from a dark, cold heart and mind. Many terrorists seek attention and when we obsess about them, we give them more power, the very thing we are trying to take away from them. To ban perfectly good and decent people because they come from countries in which terrorism is often the order of the day shows a gross lack of wisdom, faith, and compassion.
Third, most likely, you’re not going to keep out the real terrorists by banning all people from these seven Muslim countries. Those intent on carrying out terror attacks will find ways to do it, unfortunately. And they will place a bigger target on our backs simply because we are trying to fight them in this way. All of us can pretty much remember where we were and what we were doing on 9/11. America has been trying to fight the real terrorists ever since. But we are not naive. We know the difference between a good family of refugees and a terrorist.
The ban simply isn’t fair for those who want what all well-meaning human beings want — the right to live in a land without hate, unrest, oppression, and discrimination; the right to raise their children in an environment of openness and an appreciation of differences; the right to be human and to be treated as such. Men and women who have contributed to the privileges in our country for decades should not be denied the right to return to their families and their homes. Families looking for refuge from persecution should not be left to face horrible, heart-wrenching situations.
This is not the America our Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the Constitution. This isn’t the way to win. In fact, it isn’t about winning at all. Right now, this is about human decency, kind regard, and walking in faith. It should be noted that the human spirit is quite resilient. So resilient that it continues to soar even after two World Wars, a Cold War, the Holocaust, Rwanda, and 9/11.
You can take away material possessions and you can implement bans and laws with no regard for the people it affects simply because it doesn’t apply to you. But you can never take away the faith, hope, and resilience that resides in each and every single human heart. It is difficult enough to be a refugee or an immigrant, to be called “murderers,” “rapists,” and a “Trojan horse”. It is even more difficult when the country you love doesn’t love you back.
It is applaudable that thousands of people have not left the immigrants and refugees who are sadly being banned from their country alone. As for me, I probably wouldn’t be here if my mother never immigrated to this country. So many people have dared to get into the arena and show up for the fight. Because their problem is very much a problem for all of us. And it is a responsibility that we all are obligated to bear. Job 31:32 should be the reflection of our hearts that “no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler” (NIV).
You don’t have to be religious or spiritual to know that this is wrong. Yes, we should fight terrorism but we need to ensure that we are finding those who are legitimate terrorists. Anti-immigration policies in the early twentieth century proved to be destructive to the fabric of this country. The anti-immigration policies of today will prove to be no different, only that we did not learn to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated. History will stand to tell of the regretfully cruel consequences against innocent people, but it will not say that we stood by and said nothing.