Give me your tired, your poor, well not all of them!
Back in 2015 I felt a need to speak out against a proposed policy that would see refugees from certain countries prevented from entering my home state of NJ. I felt that such an act was not only un-American, but a dangerous first step in a slippery slope downward to further nationalist policies. Though that policy was not enacted, it hasn’t stopped considerably worse policies like last week’s immigration ban. Here’s an update version of my thoughts.
I’m not a person who normally feels a need to voice my opinions on anything vaguely political, religious, or generally contentious, but don’t get me started on VIM vs EMACS. However, with the recent rhetoric and what is unfortunately becoming policy regarding refugees, I felt I had to speak out. These are my own opinions and I have no illusions anyone will read this, but I have to get it out.
My governor, Chris Christie, a man I personally voted for because of what seemed at the time a unique ability to actually bridge the bipartisan gap and make real progress with people he did not agree with such as Cory Booker, a man I mostly don’t agree with but truly respect, has made moves to bar Syrian refugees from the state of New Jersey in the wake of the Paris attacks. This is a man who was elected by the voters of this state, one of the most diverse in the country and one that benefits hugely through the diversity in schools, tech companies, and of course restaurants, who also got a percentage of the vote from impoverished citizens of our own country yet now wants to turn a blind eye to refugees in need. Actually it is worse than an blind eye because there is a concerted effort to prohibit them.
Then, the House of Representatives voted on a measure to enforce strict checks on the refugees. This sounds like a totally reasonable reaction, but so did the Patriot Act. It’s a slippery slope. I understand the emotional reaction, heck, I felt the same after hearing about the attacks, but here’s the truth, ISIS is never going to beat us militarily, the only power they have is fear and using it to make us change who we are. By changing who we are and the values and beliefs we hold, we lose our way and any conviction we have in our way of life. To be honest, they will never truly win, but they can make our lives worse and less meaningful in little ways slowly over time. We have already given up any semblance of privacy in electronic communication and while most people, myself included feel we have nothing to fear from this, it hurts trust in American companies, as well as slowly changing who we are.
I don’t want to open the gates to these insane people either, but baring any Syrian refugee is not going to accomplish that. We’ve already seen attempts to get into the country on fake passports and documentation. There are also plenty of sickos already within the borders.
This brings me to the even more personal aspect of this to me. My wife of five years, who I’ve been with for nearly 11 now, came to the US as a refugee. She came from a country we hated at that time and knew to be our biggest enemy. In fact we even had school children practice hiding under desks because we were so afraid. There were listening posts set up across the country and counter listening posts set up to just spew garbage to confuse the other side. We were terrified that these people would come over with suitcase bombs, or would be sleeper agents, activating years later after filling integrating with our society. That country was the USSR. However, at that time we realized something important. These people hated the government of the USSR way more than we did. They refuted every aspect of their culture and way of life to the very fabric of their bones. Most Americans think Putin is a goofy oaf. You should hear the hatred in the voices of my wife’s family when they talk about “white Satan” or “the wolf”. They do not forget. The Syrian refugees are largely the same. ISIS has killed hundreds of times as many Syrians as Westerners. In fact there is a theory that the attacks were just to distract from the fact that ISIS has largely been contained now and appears to be on the out.
At this point my wife is as American as apple pie, and though she still hasn’t had dippin dots yet, I’m happy to report that she enjoys Taco Bell and Klondike bars just as much as me. Sure, not everyone may want to assimilate the same way, nor should they as diversity of culture is what makes the restaurant scene, and in fact all of America great. I’m just saying that if we had closed our doors the same way when we were even more scared in the 80s, I wouldn’t have met the love of my life and our dog wouldn’t have a home. Strangely, Reagan, the gold standard many of these politicians strive to be like, is the one who largely enabled this.
Most Americans probably have never met a Syrian, but think about the benefits. The Vietnamese refugee flood in the 80s and 90s brought us pho and Bahn mi sandwiches. The Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi ones brought some of the tastiest fish curry I’ve ever tried. I personally can’t wait until New York gets its first Michelin star Syrian restaurant. Some of the smartest people I work with also come from diverse cultures that we weren’t always on the best terms with. The technology boom would have happened much slower if these talented people weren’t let in. The only Syrians I know are our neighbor who is an awesome guy, makes great cheese, and even lets Hershey swim in his pool, and the doctor who delivered all three of my sister in law’s boys.
Now, thanks to an executive order which has thankfully been largely overturned and at least halted, bans on immigration extended to 8 other nations including refugees and those seeking asylum. These are people who have already gone through an extensive vetting process and were granted approval. Some of these people are those you’ve heard of, athletes and Olympians delayed, the former Prime Minister of Norway who had visited the Middle East, restauranteurs and authors. Not exactly those we should fear or turn away. Others you may not know about. Co-workers and friends of friends. People I’ve known for years who now had to cancel work trips or visits home. And this is just the begining. Many more countries may follow. My friends and co-workers are scared and right now, I don’t blame them.
I am teaching my boys about the value of hard work and success, but how long until they see the American dream isn’t for everyone? The boys are growing up with daycare friends of many different ethnicities, religions, and beliefs, and that is awesome to me. Acceptance is a pillar of what makes this country great, back from the founding of it by groups who fled persecution elsewhere. This is the America I want for my boys to grow up in.
Plus, you never know, your sole mate may actually be the next emigre from one of these places. Just be careful about watching “The Americans” together, awkward questions will get asked.