On March 1, The Economist published an article titled “A Lesson in American Greatness” about a Sudanese American named Emmanuel Makender who lives in Grand Rapids, MI (you may have heard of it). The author of the piece was catching up with Mr. Makender, having met him once before—eighten years ago, in a refugee camp in Kenya after he had fled the war in his native country, a war which had taken his father and three of his siblings. From the article:
Aged around 12… he joined a straggling column of fugitive children, mostly boys, who trekked hundreds of miles east to Ethiopia to escape the war and rebel press gangs. But another war broke out there, so they trekked back across Sudan to Kenya.”
Now, Mr. Makender makes $40,000 a year and owns a four-bedroom house and two cars. According to the article, his financial situation is secure enough that his pregnant wife doesn’t need to work, and he sends a good portion of this wages to his relatives in Kenya and Uganda to pay for his nephews’ education.
These are the sort of dangerous criminals whom the President and Republicans are at pains to keep out of the country.
Per usual for a Republican policy preference, the narratives on why restricting immigration is important—immigrants are dangerous, they take away jobs from Americans, etc.—have uneasy relationships with reality. Immigration is an unambiguous positive. Immigrants start companies at a much greater rate than non-immigrants. They are incarcerated less, raise wages, create jobs, and increase property values. Just as importantly, openness to immigration is a fundamentally American value. One of our national symbols celebrates our immigrant past and present and welcomes its future. The notion of coming to America to seek a better life is older than the country itself. If there has ever been an American Dream, it is immigrants who have created it.
Restricting immigration is terrible public policy. It weakens the country and erodes the image of the United States as a land of opportunity. But restricting refugees, as this administration has done, is a moral atrocity. Right now, in Syria, Iraq, and other war-torn landscapes, people like Emmanuel Makender are dying. They are dying because Donald Trump and his party lapdogs have decided that cultural purity is a higher virtue than human life.
Of all the regressive, fear-mongering, cynical, hateful, and unethical positions to which the Republican party has hitched its wagon, the vilification of refugees and immigrants is among the most loathsome. It is racist—another data point in a long history of Republicans leveraging xenophobia and racism for electoral gain. It is harmful—study after study finds that immigrants are a significant net contributor to society both economically and socially. But most of all, it is cruel—refugees are by definition fleeing from the most wretched and horrific places on the planet. Turning them away is not ethically distinguishable from condemning them to death.
This piece is about immigrants—they are and have always been one of the United States’ great strengths, and easier we make it for people the world over to come here in search of a better life, the better off we’ll be.
But it is also about activism. It has been almost fifteen months since Donald Trump became President. Ever since Sean Spicer stepped up to the podium to talk about the size of his crowd, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. has been a whirlwind of outrageous stories, jaw-dropping quotes, and breathtaking ineptitude. So constant is the barrage of drama from the White House that we have, by necessity, become inured to the actions of the administration. But we should—we NEED—to remember at all times that the worst person in American public life is also the most powerful person in the world (actual story from The Hill: when told about a drone strike in which the CIA waited until the target had left his family, Trump asked, “Why did you wait?”), and that he is aided and abetted every single fucking day by the traitors of the Republican party. Restricting refugees and cutting immigration is just the beginning.
These people have to be defeated at every level. Go find a local candidate you like. Run for office. Give money. Phone bank. VOTE. Lives depend on it.
After working in Washington, D.C., for two years, Andrew Orlebeke (’10) is in graduate school in Seattle, Washington, studying public policy. In addition to public service, he has a passion for traveling and an abiding love of sports.