To the New Administration, On Immigration

By Evangeline Liu (College Undergraduate)

This is a piece written to those who want to block those in need from entering the country in the name of “national security”.

Where do I start in arguing how un-American this is?

According to psychology, personal stories touch people’s hearts more deeply than if I gave bland, hard statistics. So I’ll start with my own story, and then some friends’.

I am the daughter of immigrants, raised in a better environment than my parents had because they wanted to seek a better life here, work hard, and give back to their adopted homeland. I was born here, but I never forgot my immigrant roots, or those of America. I was raised to believe in the equality of all people, to believe that diversity makes us strong, to believe that to be accepting of others is the only right thing to do especially in a country founded by immigrants.

I am grateful that I was able to be raised in a good environment and to be part of this immigrant nation. Thus, I’ve long had a desire to give back to the community that I had the fortune to grow up in. With this in mind, in middle school, I became a translator for a Chinese girl, Tina, who had just immigrated here and could not speak much English. As our friendship grew and we created memories of everything from the swimming pool to the beach to Chinese music, I felt proud to see her become more accustomed to the academics here and become a well-liked member of the school community. While there was some teasing of her at the beginning, I did feel that this integration into the school community was what America ought to be. Immigrants should be welcomed with open arms both because that’s the right thing to do and because our ancestors (with the exception of Native Americans) were immigrants themselves, not rejected based on notions that have little to no basis in reality. All these years later, we are still close (albeit long-distance) friends.  

In high school, I met Yatta, a Liberian girl. She caught my eye in the crowded school hallways with her dark oval face, large dark eyes that matched her skin, and her unique style of dress that showed off African culture’s bright colors and stark, angled patterns. As I befriended her, we hung out at a play, at school lunchtimes, at her birthday party, at prom, at graduation.

On the surface, she seems like a happy, carefree girl who just happens to be in a wheelchair. She was outgoing with many of the international students and school teachers she knew and had a healthy sense of humor. But if you know her story, you’d know that she spent many years at an orphanage where she was shunned because of her disability and called a “witch”. She was here because an American couple loved her and adopted her as their daughter. She’d tell me that the day she was adopted was the happiest day of her life.

This is the spirit that our nation was founded upon: freedom and equality for all. It’s the spirit that has made America a symbol of hope for so many. It’s what has made our nation great. We are strong because of diversity, not in spite of it.

Didn’t our founding fathers come here as immigrants fleeing persecution? Didn’t they come here to forge a new path in a new nation based on the ideal of religious and other freedoms? How can you prey on the fears of some to curtail the freedoms that are so enshrined, in the Constitution and in the proud stars and stripes that shine on our flags?

Maybe you didn’t think the above story was compelling enough, so now I’m going to tell the story of a girl who is my best friend, so close she is like a sister.

She has a soft-spoken demeanor but you could talk to her about almost anything. She loves books and writing and drawing and photography and she has a dream of becoming an architect. Her large hazel eyes betrayed her kindness and if you talked to her you knew she was very sweet with her words.

She’s Iraqi and Muslim. She always had on the most colorful hijabs over a long dress or a shirt and skinny jeans.

Her name is Ranya.

Where do I start with the Islamophobes who say “those Muslims should go back to where they came from.”? Where do I start with those who have the power to make policy but choose to make excuses to turn refugees away rather than be the welcoming country America was intended to be? I doubt if those hearts are touched by the stories of fleeing and persecution when it’s not someone of their own religion. I doubt if they’ve heard stories like hers. Or do they just close their eyes and ears because they in such a cloud of privilege it doesn’t matter to them how many so desperately need help as long as they can stay in power?

I guess I’ll start with events that happened long before I knew her.

Ranya was just six when the Iraq War started, too young to know what was happening, yet everything about that day was seared into her memory. She remembers being shut up with her extended family in a part of their house for days, with no food or water, while the gunfire and destruction raged outside. Her father told her to put on headphones so that she would not be scared, but music could not blot out the violence of the day, even in a child’s innocent heart. When she was only nine, she had witnessed a bloody parade of captured prisoners just by sitting at her front door and was soon pulled away, but the image was forever stamped into her heart.

Today, sadly, Iraq is no more peaceful than before. Ranya described how the roads to the capital were so dangerous, plagued with thieves and soldiers and corrupt police who can stop cars and kill everyone. She told me about how the new so-called “democratic” government was one that was willing to shoot dozens of high school student protesters demanding more rights, one that leaves Baghdad underwater and cares little about the children who were killed by fallen electrical wires while its officials keep enjoying their luxurious lives. Because Ranya and her family constantly feared that they would not live to see the next sunrise, that they, or their house, would be blown to bits in fiery destruction. Finally, the post-invasion civil war convinced her family that they had to leave.

This kind of story is shared by so many across Iraq, across Syria, across those nations that the new president has said he would ban visitors from. Stories filled with tragedy and the sliver of hope that the future will be better.

If you’re so concerned about terrorism, why are you banning those who are victims of it more than you are from seeking much-needed refuge? Why do you turn those away in the name of security when we already have a rigorous screening process? Did you research the facts, before you turned away those in need and tore apart families? Because it seems to me that there are so many holes in the fabric of your argument that it just falls apart in a mess. Didn’t you say you were going to be president “for all people”?

Refugees are human. Refugees are not statistics lumped together along with sinister elements such as terrorism because it is easy to be xenophobic. Refugees are not the nameless, faceless people who threaten your culture---they actually enrich it. Refugees are the ones the terrorists want you to hate because the refusal to accommodate the refugees props up their image. Refugees are the ones trying to escape the desperate situations that they didn’t ask for.

Racial or ethnic profiling is never right, especially when it’s the government that’s doing it. It’s often the first step of a slippery slope, some of which have historically led to the worst atrocities mankind has ever witnessed. The only way to avoid slipping down the slope is to work together and say that we can be and are better than the hatred spewing from some at the top.

Policy-makers, are you listening to the voices of the people you were elected to serve?

Here's how author Evangeline suggests you can get involved: National Immigration Project

Take Action Now: Immigration, Civil Liberties