I Am An Immigrant

On some level, aren’t we all?

Certificate of Citizenship, June 1974

In 2015, then presidential candidate Donald Trump announced his plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States. I was so taken aback by his threat that I wrote a piece, Yes I am a naturalized US Citizen, recalling my own journey with my family when I became an American citizen at the age of 14. I closed with this sentiment:

There is a defined process to enter, obtain a visa and gain citizenship in the U.S. While we may look more closely at the process let us not go down a road driven by fears that shame others and offer no guarantee of security.

Only 13 months later, President Trump has forged ahead with his promise. I remember reading an 8-page special in the Sunday Times immediately following the November 2016 election where Toby Harnden posed the question, “Now that Trump has won, will he turn his inflammatory rhetoric into policy, or has the US elected a liberal in conservative clothing?” If you are witnessing what I’m witnessing, it appears he has chosen to turn his rhetoric into policy.

I am proud to be an American citizen, born to an Armenian father and Danish mother in India. And because of my US passport, I don’t fear that when I travel to other countries I will be able to return home with no issue. But as the scope of my life reaches beyond our borders, I fear for those who must now reconsider traveling abroad.

There are more than 975,000 international students who are studying here in the US right now. What happens to them with their F-1 student visas should they want to visit their family in a country that the US has now listed on its ban, or could list on a subsequent ban at a future date?

How about those who hold H-1B visas as temporary foreign workers? What happens when they want to attend a wedding, or a funeral or just see family in a country that is on this new list?

What about my Somalian neighbors, who used to laugh out loud with their children at our neighborhood park? What are they saying to each other behind closed doors after finding refuge and freedom in Denver just a few months ago?

Our family didn’t come to the US as refugees, we arrived as immigrants. Still, I feel a kinship of sorts with refugees because of how we were ostracized in those early years. We stood out: we didn’t dress the same, ate odd foods, spoke with accents that were hard to understand and generally made a myriad of blunders until we learned how to be absorbed and accepted in our communities. While I may relate on one level to refugees I encounter, I’m fully aware that with my status as a US citizen, of European and Armenian descent, and no trace of an accent, my privilege is starkly different.

Even if you don’t recall when your family first touched American soil, we all came from somewhere. And that’s the piece in this ban that is so confusing to me. It’s as if we look at where we are right here and now and neglect the reality that our parents, or grandparents or great grandparents or even great great grandparents were born outside the United States. When they arrived here they did so to escape oppression, or for freedom, maybe opportunity, or even a new start. My mother told me that she and my dad chose to emigrate to the US because this country welcomed foreigners so they knew that we would be accepted.

My plea to President Trump? Remember your roots. Don’t forget your own origins, or those of your wife, or of the citizens of these United States. We are a melting pot of people who are stronger together precisely because we are so different. It it’s truly only the threat of terrorism that’s really behind this ban, by all means continue to vet as we already do because our policy is strict and effective.

When I think of how our family arrived in the US, I am reminded of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty from Emma Lazurus’ The New Colossus.

“Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

That golden door opens and closes. Don’t slam it shut.