From the Outside In

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The recent ruling by the Supreme Court to uphold the president’s ban on incoming travelers from several Muslim countries in the guise of protecting America from terrorist agents may be one of the most unconstitutional, un-American actions ever taken. It hearkens back to the institutionalized racism of Japanese internment camps during World War II, now deemed an incredible mistake—and, in astoundingly hypocritical contrast, the ruling for that one was overturned in the same session that upheld the Muslim travel ban. In both situations, our leaders believe us to be unsafe, but appear to have no legitimate process to determine where the danger lies. So instead of working more diligently to figure it out, they use broad judicial strokes and bar entire populations from entering the country—or, even more troubling, as we’ve seen in the past several weeks, they round them up and keep them in cages, separating children from their parents as a form of punishment and deterrence for seeking asylum in a country that offered as much.

None of this sounds like it protects anyone from anything.

It sounds to me more like the people in charge don’t know how to protect the people they govern, so they punish immigrants instead, hoping to appear in control as they keep out the so-called foreign invaders. By keeping out everybody who might be one.

This doesn’t seem very American, does it?

It doesn’t to me.

In fact, it seems like the exact opposite of the principles upon which this country was founded.

What a dangerous, confusing time this has become for those hoping to come to this country to build a life based on principles promised but not upheld—and for those of us who still believe in the unique migrant haven our shores represent to the world, who value and support immigration as a necessary mechanism in the American machine. I imagine myself standing in the skin of an immigrant in 2018, leaving my homeland either for an opportunity to prosper, or having no choice but to flee from life-threatening circumstances, or having lost everything to an oppressive authoritarian scenario over which I had no control. The knowledge that there’s a country like the US that extols belief in my right to safety, in my ability to provide for myself and my family with fairness and equality, on the same footing as everyone else, saves me. The promise of my holding status as an equal member of the group without having to been born into money or power, regardless of status or culture or heritage, provides me an opportunity to live without fear that my new government will persecute me for my worship, or for speaking my mind openly, or for so many commonly-held human qualities that make me different, but not less-than. I know there’s a place that will take me in and allow me to start again. 

The US becomes my salvation in that moment.

It offers freely to me and everyone everyone else what I believe to be the most valuable of all American exports: hope.

Then I imagine myself hearing the stories of family separations, of sweeping raids and travel bans. I wonder how welcome I would actually be immigrating to a country that has historically spoken so clearly in support of immigrants—a country built by immigrants, no less—but that now acts in such brutal opposition to them. Would I be safe, and welcome, and afforded the opportunities this country promises? And when I turn the lens back to myself, to my safe standing as a US citizen who has never needed to flee anything, or feared persecution for speaking my peace, or needed to start again because my very life depended upon it, I absolutely wonder about all of this, too.

Will they be safe and welcome and afforded opportunity? Or will they be feared and reviled and unjustly accused of a threat they don’t hold because of their religion, their culture, their heritage. Their country of origin.

I’m a citizen, and I wonder all of this, for people on the outside who only want the same things as I want on the inside.

And if the Idea of America as Immigrant Nation has become so tenuous for an insider, what must it be turning into for them?

Steven Luna