In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act, granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants who had entered the United States before 1982. Among them was my father.
In enacting the law, Reagan’s doctrine fell within an American tradition of common sense immigration reform. He was not the first to embark on such an endeavor: In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison ordered the construction of the first federal immigration station on Ellis Island, paving the way for economic immigrants from Europe to enter the New World. In 1966, in the midst of the Cold War, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Cuban Adjustment Act, granting Cuban nationals legal pathways to permanent residency in the United States.
Yet there is also a competing American tradition of immigration control, at once ineffective and inhumane. In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the establishment of ten internment camps across the United States to relocate Japanese-Americans and Japanese nationals. In 1991, President George H. W. Bush ordered the construction of makeshift holding centers in Guantanamo Bay to detain intersected Haitian asylum-seekers. Beginning in 2014, President Barack Obama ordered the construction of “child care” facilities and shelters to infinitely detain Central American asylum-seeking children. In January 2017, the U.S. Border Patrol began denying entry to Central American families legally seeking asylum on America’s southern border.
Yesterday, President Donald J. Trump ordered the construction of a wall along the border America shares with my home country. He also ordered the defunding of American sanctuary cities and is expected to bar all refugees for at least 120 days. In addition, he will almost certainly ban refugees and immigrants on the basis of their religion and nationality — indefinitely.
With these actions, President Trump is acting not in the tradition of Ellis Island or Reagan’s legacy, but in the tradition of unfounded paranoia in the face of fear. He forgets that his very own mother and current wife immigrated to the United States. He dishonors the inscription on the Statute of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” He disgraces America’s commitment to freedom of religion as reflected in the First Amendment and fails to uphold the United States Refugee Act of 1980 and the Refugee Convention of 1951.
Seeing photo after photo of friends and classmates at the Women’s Marches in New York and DC this weekend filled me with hope and energy that I had lost after last November’s election. For a moment, I imagined that the Trump administration had at least awakened hitherto dormant liberals, global citizens and defenders of human rights and civil liberties. But as President Trump continues to make announcements about what his America is to look like, these same friends and classmates have once again disappeared into their ivory towers.
At the start of 2015, one in eight residents of Greater New Haven was foreign-born, originating from countries in all regions of the world. About half of all immigrants were naturalized U.S. citizens while the other half were legal permanent residents, legal temporary residents or undocumented immigrants. Refugees fall in the second group. In 2016 alone, 530 refugees were resettled in New Haven, most of whom were Muslim and whose families will not be joining the Elm City in the coming years, if Trump proceeds with his expected moratorium on refugee admission. This means that President’s Trump’s latest Executive Orders will have a serious impact on one in eight of our neighbors. Now is the time to come together in New Haven to show support for our immigrant and refugee communities.
One way to show support is to participate in the Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Service’s upcoming Run For Refugees. The run is an annual fundraising 5-kilometer run/walk taking place in East Rock on Sunday, February 5. Another way to support the cause is to write to the White House and your local and state officials, expressing your continued support for immigrants, refugees and the status of New Haven as a sanctuary city. Still another opportunity to show support is to make plans to participate in the Immigrants’ March in DC on Saturday, Apr. 8th.
As a Mexican immigrant myself and president of the Yale Refugee Project, I urge Yalies who are truly committed to defending the rights of their friends, classmates and neighbors to begin acting today.
Maria Sarahi Melchor is a junior in Morse College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .