I think many of the political debates in the forefront of the national and international political discourse are framed with false premises. Over the course of this term, in each of my columns I hope to try to reframe these conversations. This week I hope to tackle perceptions of immigration, namely how disturbing modern “anti-immigration” sentiments are. Often when people claim to be against refugees or undocumented immigrants they couch these ideas in patriotism. “America first!” they shout.
Let me be very clear: if you have the moral character to proclaim yourself “anti-refugee,” you are no patriot. If you can hear stories of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials taking mothers and fathers, siblings and friends in the night or off of the sidewalk then you do not believe that all men are created equal like our founding principles claim. If your community were treated this way you would not stay silent.
While the moral ramifications of being “anti-immigrant” are obvious, the fact is, the economic community is in agreement that immigration is a net gain for our country. Immigrants and their children are some of the most enterprising and productive members of our society. People come to the United States to live happier and freer lives. In my view, immigrants are some of our country’s truest patriots.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet people in the developing world who were desperate to become Americans. We are foolish as a nation for not opening our doors to those who would come here to better themselves, their families and our country.
To be a true patriot, you have to stand by the higher values of our country even when fear and tribalism weigh heaviest. Our political leaders should be developing plans to encourage those who dream of better futures for their families here in our country, not devising ways of banning them and trapping them with bureaucracy. Being American isn’t supposed to be about being White, or Christian, or even being born here. The greatness of our country is believing that through each of us striving to better ourselves and our communities we all benefit.
Nothing makes this more starkly apparent than the recently exposed, though underreported suffering of Iraqis who worked for the US army as translators during the Iraq war. These brave men and women served, and in some cases died, side by side with our service people. Many of these translators and their families now live in fear because of their known ties to the United States. Instead of showing gratitude and welcoming these heroes to our shores, we left them stuck in the turmoil, strife and violence we created.
If you have a warm bed to sleep in, food for you and your family and you still believe that advocating for the disenfranchisement of new Americans is a good way to spend your time, please don’t have the nerve to claim patriotism. Those who advocate these policies are cowards, those who risk it all to come here are people I would be proud to call my countrymen. I often hear Christians talk about the “Judeo-Christian” beliefs of our country. While I don’t know much about Christianity, in Judaism there is a concept called Pikuach Nefesh, the supreme obligation to help those in life threatening situations. In the case of those fleeing the horrors of the Syrian civil war or the violence in many South American countries, this duty to help those who in need is paramount.
Immigration is one of the best parts of our country. Anyone who would tell you otherwise truly lacks any moral character.