January 30 would have been Fred Korematsu’s 98th birthday. Korematsu, a Japanese-American, was famous for challenging Japanese internment camps during World War II before the Supreme Court (Korematsu v. United States). Though an American citizen by birth, he was forced by law to pack up his belongings and register at an internment camp – a requirement he believed was unconstitutional.
In 2004, one year before his death, Korematsu wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that “no one should ever be locked away simply because they share the same race, ethnicity, or religion as a spy or terrorist. If that principle was not learned from the internment of Japanese Americans, then these are very dangerous times for our democracy.” His words serve as an eerie prediction regarding President Trump’s recent immigration ban.
Trump’s ban – before it was blocked by a federal judge’s ruling – was set to last for 90 days. It aimed to stop people from seven countries compromised by ISIS – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – from entering the United States. Additionally, Trump’s administration stated that green card holders and special immigrants could expect a “swift entry,” but that they would also be checked. The ban did not apply to dual nationals and diplomats. It is also important to note that the ban would not have directly affected U.S. citizens.
Though both Trump and his supporters are quick to say that President Obama did a “similar thing” in 2011, Obama never issued an outright ban on all people from predominantly Muslim countries trying to enter the United States. Instead, he slowed down the refugee admittance process and required re-examination of Iraqi refugees already in the United States, in response to threats issued by two Iraqi refugees in Kentucky. According to the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center, 6,339 Iraqi refugees still entered the U.S. in 2011.
How can President Trump’s isolationist attitude possibly benefit Americans? Our college’s namesake, who was perhaps the most influential founding father, was an immigrant. I am an immigrant. The people I e-mail, message, and speak with on a regular basis are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. In fact, other than the two or three Native Americans I’ve met (excluding those who make the “I’m 1/200th Cherokee” argument), I have spent my entire life surrounded by descendants of immigrants.
The United States of America is a nation of, for, and by immigrants. As the inscription on the Statue of Liberty says: “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!” If that does not speak volumes about the importance of immigration to the United States, I am not sure what does.
I came to this country shortly after a day that will live in infamy, September 11th, 2001. I was three years old and the only words I knew in English were “hello,” “yes,” and “thank you.” But as soon as I arrived I fell in love with what I am now proud to call my country. I found friends, people who were eager to learn about me and help me acculturate to this new life. They invited me, with smiles and open hearts, to try new things, like St. Louis baby back ribs (which quickly became my favorite food as a child). I loved, and still love, the United States. If I could do it all over again, I would pick this nation over all others in a heartbeat.
While I understand that President Trump is trying to ensure the safety of the American people, his immigration ban upsets me. Even if it were lifted after those 90 days, children emigrating from these seven countries would not have the same positive experience that I did coming here. There would be a bias against them from the outset. They would look like the people Trump aimed to target with his ban, and therefore like enemies of the United States. They might not be welcomed into homes, sports teams, and schools like I was. They might be rejected as people simply because they cannot choose their birthplace and ethnicity.
Let’s learn from Korematsu, from the Statue of Liberty, from others like Alexander Hamilton, Albert Einstein, and Andrew Carnegie about how great immigration can be. As elementary school children across the nation learn to sing: “This land is your land, this land is my land …” Let’s keep it that way.