I was an immigrant, let’s have some empathy

You probably don’t even think of it that way, but I was an immigrant to a foreign country under a student visa/residence permit with the expectation that I would stay in that foreign country for at least 3 years. Things didn’t go as planned, but I was an immigrant. I’ve written some here in the past about those experiences, since I started blogging on this site over 5 years ago when I was still living in the Netherlands.

While I was in Europe I grew up a lot and I experienced things that I would have never experienced in the US. However, before I get into any of this I must preface this post. My experience abroad was easier than most study abroad programs. My courses were in English. I’m an American Citizen. Nearly all government documents along with University documents had English translations. Nearly all Dutch are fluent in English and all my friends spoke English. This made these extremely easy. So easy at times it was easy to forget I was an immigrant.

While living abroad I lived with a group of people I jokingly referred to as a model UN. There were two Colombians, two Pakistanis, a Turk, an Iranian, and a Chinese woman. Everyone had a story to tell me about my homeland that cause them direct personal pain. My Colombian friends told me what it was like growing up in the 80’s and 90’s with the FARC threatening things while the US was running missions in their country. My Pakistani roommates told me about what my country was doing to their country at that time. My Iranian roommate was initially terrified to meet me because I was an American. He assumed that I would hate him because of where he was from.

Learning about the impact of the US political system on every person that I met while living abroad was truly sobering. As an American living in the US we simply do not understand the impact and the weight of the US to the rest of the world. Furthermore, we simply take it as a given fact that this is how the world is and always will be. However, that’s not true. When I first arrived in the Netherlands it was clear there was still ill will towards America for George W. Bush, that was tempered a great deal by Obama, but not all of his policies pleased Europeans, specifically many of the bombings we were doing. I believe that we’re losing even more respect with trump as our President now.

I got the idea for this post because a friend of mine shared a link about a Syrian student at CMU was thinking of transferring outside of the US for his PhD. This hit really close to home because, while I was studying in the Netherlands, my wife was finishing up her PhD and my Grandfather passed away. If I had been unable to go home and return for my studies in the Netherlands because of a ban of travel between the US and the Netherlands I would have seriously reconsidered my decision to even study there. Being away from my wife for the first year and a half of my marriage was incredibly difficult, losing my Grandfather was heart wrenching, the mere thought of not being able to go home for his funeral is completely unimaginable. As it was, my family pulled together and got me back to the States for his funeral, which was extremely touching.

Beyond just the though of never seeing my wife or missing my Grandfather’s funeral, it brings up the moral question of “do I want to live in a society that bans people from my country?” For me, as an immigrant to that country, it’s a clear no. I do not want to live in a society that bans people from my country or any other country for the reasons that trump has outlined. These policies affect people, people that don’t have a true say in that country’s government. If there is a problem with the government it should be treated in an international body rather than attacking the people of the nation. Here’s one example of a person negatively impacted by the ban. He is completely devastated.

As I said in my post yesterday we, America, need to be the shining light on the hill. It is the reason why immigrants chose to come here. I would not come here as an immigrant from any country right now because I would never know when that ban would arbitrarily descend on my country, so that I could never go home to see my loved ones or could never have my loved ones join me.

I’ve been an immigrant, I was lucky that I was able to control when and why I became an immigrant. Not everyone is lucky like me.

What is even happening?

I, like many of you out there, are really wondering what the hell is going on right now. Has our country gone crazy? Have we elected a man that is going to bring ruin down on us all? Should we protest? Should we resist?

To put it bluntly, this is something our country hasn’t seen before. We’ve had issues before where there were disagreements over how to run the country, but there really weren’t blatant attempts to completely destroy the current political infrastructure in place. There was an implicit acceptance that while you may be a Democrat and the President a Republican, you’d still do your job and be trusted to do so. That trust has been breached. Furthermore, there were norms to ensure that the experts at least had a crack at what was going to be turned into an Executive Order, but that’s gone now too.

Our Executive Branch has gone crazy, the rest of the country hasn’t, well maybe the silent majority of the Republicans in office have, but everyone else is still doing the right thing.

You see, I think that America should be a shining light on the hill. Our ideals and values, in many ways contentious, really have the opportunity to lift people out of a rough life and into something that is greater. Right now, we aren’t even a flash light shining on a puddle of mud as a government. As a people, we’re doing right by our ideals. Protesting, one of the most American things you can do; welcoming refugees, originally, the US was founded by refugees or asylum seekers – it is only right we continue in this vein. Fighting injustice and oppression – we’ve gotten this wrong, a lot, but we also have had a history of continually moving in the right direction, despite our fits and starts. We Americans are doing this now in the face of what is only the beginning of push back from Trump.

We have a pretty clear idea of what will happen to anyone that is a government official and they refuse to obey trump. They will be fired and if possible I’m sure trump will figure out a way to prosecute that individual. Today, trump fired Sally Yates for up holding her oath as a public servant. His response is absurdly juvenile and was clearly penned by the president himself.

Trump's note for firing Sally Yates

Trump’s note for firing Sally Yates

This is an embarrassment, but this is the type of person that we are dealing with here. I don’t think that this is even a partisan issue at this point either. When the president of the US decides that he can ignore the rule of law we’re at the point where the government itself is at risk of no longer being a democracy. I believe that we can put aside our differences here and protest together. Pushing for Mike Pence or other subordinates to impeach trump. If he is unable or unwilling, I believe that an organization like the ACLU will ultimately sue to impeach trump regardless. However, this is a time when the leaders on the right need to stand up and say, “No, country before party, we will not be pulled into a dictatorship, we are a democracy. In a democracy you must obey the rule of law.”

Should you protest, though? I think this is a really personal question, but I think that you must protest in some form or another if you want to see this stop. There are many ways to protest that don’t include holding a sign, but you must at least commit time, energy, and possibly money instead. I have already donated $20/month to the ACLU and another $10/month to an anti-corruption organization (which is non-partisan looking to elect both D and R). You can write, you can tweet, you can also run for office. There are a lot of ways to stop this, but you need to decide what you can or cannot do. For me with my travel, it’s difficult to get my bearings in whatever city I’m in to effectively protest. Instead I will write, donate, and support anyone willing to make a difference. I am also working on a podcast with a few friends. The goal, like my goal on this blog, isn’t to preach or really push my ideals, but to try to educate so you can make your own informed decisions.

So, let’s make America the shining light on the hill. Let’s fight against corruption, fight to level the playing field so that everyone has an equal chance, fight so that women feel like they have control over their own body, and to fight to make sure that we can take in those huddled masses.