Protesters outside Terminal 5 of O’Hare International Airport demand that travelers detained inside due to President Trump’s order to ban people from seven predominantly Muslim countries are released on January 28, 2017. (Photo credit by Max Herman/NurPhoto)
The recent executive order banning travel on seven Muslim-majority nations has triggered massive responses around the globe. Protests were conducted at JFK airport, along with other airports around the country. It warmed my heart to see people sending messages of love and support to the people caught up in the sudden chaos of this executive order. It also empowered me to see civic action – protected under the Bill of Rights and specifically the First Amendment – is still alive and well in America.
These recent events triggered a painful personal memory of what it feels like to be suddenly shut out and blocked from entry. I wanted to share my personal story with you in hopes that it encourages you to stand up for what you believe in, and to always have hope, even in the face of fear and insurmountable odds.
It happened 24 years ago when my then fiancé (now my husband Byron) was held up in immigration at the airport in the United Kingdom after a long flight from California. He was joining me during my expat work assignment in England for a global contact lens company. We were so excited to start our new adventure together in England. Our attorney had counseled us that we didn’t need a visa for him at this time. He could come to England as a visitor for up to six months. After we got married he could get a visa to cover him for my 2-3 year work assignment. That turned out not to be the case.
When I went to pick him up at Heathrow airport I was informed that he was being detained by immigration officers. I sat there for hours with other families from around the world – some from African countries, others from different parts of Europe – all worried sick about the prospects of our loved ones being denied entrance in the country where we were living/working. How could this happen? What was going on? What did we do wrong? Was Byron really a risk to the UK? It was beyond confusing.
I was interviewed by immigration officers separately from my detained loved one. After 4+ hours of uncertainty, they released him from under the mandate that he could stay in the UK for only seven days, after which time he had to return to America. They kept his passport, after stamping it with the horrifying “deported” mark. It was very intimidating. Not the way we wanted to start our new adventure in England, or our new life as a married couple.
It took us another six months to work things out. The stress levels were high. There was one awful moment the day after we got married, when we were held up at the British Embassy office in Los Angeles, trying to get his visa so he could enter the UK legally as my husband. We waited for 3 hours until they cleared us so we could proceed on our honeymoon as planned. I was a nervous wreck. Byron, however, had learned through this process that patience and politeness were the key to success in this type of situation.
It all worked out in the end and we enjoyed three fantastic years living and working in England. We contributed to the UK economy. We created lifelong friendships. We helped to build an international community. We learned more about the world. We became global citizens. It was one of the best experiences of our lives.
America is a nation of immigrants
When I read about people being detained at JFK airport, it made me sick in my heart knowing that with the swipe of a pen, President Trump could shut out people without regard to their circumstance or character. Are we not a nation of immigrants? What if a travel ban was in place when Donald Trump’s grandparents immigrated to the United States? You see, his grandfather Frederick Trump (1869-1918, born Friederich Drumpf) was born in the wine-producing region of Kallstadt in Germany. At the tender age of 16, Frederick Trump emigrated to the United States. Trump’s grandmother, Elizabeth Christ Trump (1880-1966), was also born in Kallstadt, in the Bavarian region of Germany. Trump’s mother, Mary Anne MacLeod Trump, was also an immigrant, a Scotswoman coming to America by way of boat from Glasgow in 1929. (If you want to learn more Donald Trump’s family history and life, I recommend reading the biography Trump Revealed, by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher)
“We are a nation founded by religious refugees.”
– U.S. Senator, Mr. Chris Murphy, Connecticut
The point is that even Donald Trump is a child of immigrants who came to this country in search of a better life. If not for the open doors and welcoming policy of America, Donald Trump may have never been born, and he certainly would not have had the opportunity to be president if not for the open immigration policy.
Let us remember the poem,”The New Colossus” written by Emma Lazarus in 1883. An excerpt from her sonnet appears inscribed on a bronze plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. That is who we are. We are a nation made up of people of all kinds. America was built by immigrants. When we ban immigrants, we ban the very essence of who we are as a nation.
Raise your voice for what you believe in
Whatever your views on the hot topics of immigration and national security, I encourage you to open your mind and really study the issues. Read deeply, don’t just react to sensational headlines or tweets. Check and double check facts. It is also critical that each of us embrace and practice a higher level of compassion with each other. Here are eleven things that people in my network have done to create more peace, love, understanding, and hope during this time of conflict and uncertainty:
- Volunteer to be a cultural companion to a refugee in America through the IRIS integrated refugee and immigrant services.
- Re-read the United States Constitution and re-familiarize yourself with what our founding fathers intended for us.
- Get a new perspective by reading this article published by one of our military veterans whose life was saved by his Iraqi interpreter: “Allies in Combat, Now Unwanted” -NYT op-ed article by Zachary Iscol.
- Understand that many American Muslims are loyal and patriotic to our country such as Khizr Khan and his son Humayn, a captain in the U.S. Army, who gave his life to stop a suicide bomber approaching his troops in Iraq in 2004. “Khizr Khan, Gold Star Father, on the new refugee ban” – The New Yorker, by Robin Wright, January 29, 2017.
- Broaden your global viewpoint by reading the Op-Ed piece by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times.
- Examine your own cultural and religious bias. Watch this TED talk by Elizabeth Lesser “Take ‘the Other’ to lunch.” She provides an action that we as individuals can easily do to counteract the “tendency to other-ize.”
- Learn how the American Civil Liberties Union – the ACLU – marshaled its resources to legally challenge Trump and the anti-Muslim ban. According to the ACLU, Trump’s executive order violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause which prohibits the government from preferring or disfavoring any religion.
- Write or call your Congressmen and share your views. They are public servants, elected by you, the people. It’s up to you to share what actions you want them to take.
- Take 10 actions for the first 100 days, as part of Women’s March on Washington movement. Learn more at https://www.womensmarch.com/100
- Take a stand against racism. Sign up to host or participate in a community or workplace event as part of the YWCA’s signature program, Stand Against Racism. Use this platform to bring people together, have open and honest discussion, and to educate yourself. Events are happening around the country from April 27-30, 2017.
- Get to know your neighbors and colleagues who are Muslims, and people of different faiths, cultures, and countries. Invite them out to lunch. Spend time with them. Hear their stories. Be curious and open minded about their life experience and world views. Find some common ground. Help each other. Above all, love each other.
Photo credit: Bar Rucci. Download her free image at http://www.artbarblog.com/featured/love-not-hate/