The plaque on the Statue of Liberty reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse on your shore.” It’s been 131 years since the Statue of Liberty was delivered to New York. Yet, her message has been alive in all eras of American immigration since then. Until now.
President Trump’s executive order regarding immigrants and refugees from certain countries sent the world into a tizzy: people loved it, people hated it, people protested it, people argued about it. Though I could talk about my views regarding the executive order, I realized that there are more powerful statements and opinions to be made and stated about the subject. Who better to ask than a first generation American? Who better to talk to then those who have first hand accounts from their parents’ time in their home countries, and personal accounts of being the first in their families to grow up in America? In times like these, it’s very important to hand the mic to people who have real connections to the issues.
The people I interviewed below are of different many backgrounds, ages, and nationalities. Read their stories and memories. Read what makes them proud and not so proud to be an American. Read about their thoughts and feelings on the immigration ban and what immigration meant for their families. Open your heart and listen to them.
Andra, Age 56.
My parents came to the US around 1950 as refugees. They were forced to flee their home country of Latvia in 1944 when the Soviet Union annexed Latvia near the end of World War II. They believed if they stayed they would be deported to Siberia and face extreme hardship and likely death. So they fled to Germany and Austria where they lived in refugee camps and with private citizens that agreed to house refugees. After about 6 years, they received approval to come to the US with their respective families. They each worked hard to pursue a college education, become US citizens, and then met as young adults, married and raised four children. My father worked for 45 years as an engineer, designing lunar modules for the space program and advanced electronics systems for cars. He also served in the army reserve. They are now comfortably retired and recently celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary.
I exist because the US welcomed refugees.
I am extremely disappointed and embarrassed by this executive order. All credible reports that I have read state that our refugee process is the strictest in the world and takes between 18-24 months. In other words, we already have “extreme vetting.” Further, most of the refugees who are seeking to come to the US are women and children. They have experienced hardships and atrocities that most Americans cannot imagine. They are seeking safety, freedom and the chance to have a happy life. This is what America is supposed to stand for and it is how our country has thrived for more than 200 years. I don’t believe this executive order makes us safer. It will only anger both our allies and our adversaries and put our country more at risk.
Alex, Age 16.
Spain & Iraq
My name is Alex Shukri, and actually, Shukr means thank you, and I’m honestly thankful for being in the US, instead of a country that’s being destroyed and discriminated against. My dad moved from Spain, where half my family is, and my mom was born in Iraq, like I said, but she moved around a lot before she came here–she was a refugee as well. War is constantly happening in the Middle East… And I think that the fact that I won’t be able to see where my mom grew up is so agonizing, because it’s not fair that kids then, and now, have to flee countries to be safe. But they can’t flee to the US because apparently, a child is dangerous. How can a child be dangerous? A child is pure, helpless, and with the ban, they can’t come here to be safe. For those of you reading this, please… Protest, call your representatives, fight for what is right. Don’t be the generation that turned away children from having a safe home. Be the generation that helped.
My parents met because they both immigrated to the US, and even though they met years after they both immigrated, an immigration ban on ‘dangerous’ countries would have stopped me from being born. Those countries do have some terrorist groups in them, that’s what the media sees. But does it see the beauty of my mother’s hometown, Bagdad? No, people in the West don’t see that. All they see is what those horrible people, those horrible terrorists, are doing. They are not Muslim, because Muslim, just like any other religion, does not allow killing. It does not allow bombing mosques. There are terrorist groups in the US, and some don’t want to realize that they exist. No, it’s not ISIS, it’s the KKK and other white supremacy groups like that. Terrorism is not aligned with a certain skin color or religion or race, it’s wherever there is bigotry and violence. And the US has that–but some people don’t want to see that. And I know that that is why the ban is hurting so many people–bigotry.
Ritesh, Age 22.
Over 30 years ago my parents immigrated to the US from India. They came here alone, with barely any money in their pockets. Making the ultimate sacrifice, they left all that they knew behind, in the pursuit of a better life. My parents both attended the University of Michigan where my mother studied law and my father earned his engineering degree. They put themselves through college by working odd jobs, such as babysitting and picking up shifts at the local library. They never asked for any financial support to get through college and lived a very humble life. They both went through many hardships when they first moved here, including when my grandmother passed away while my mother was in school. Despite such a devastating loss, never once did my mother think about giving up her dream to live, thrive, and raise a family in America. Ultimately my parents ended up in Houston to start a family. Being a first generation American is something that has always made me proud. My parents story of determination and perseverance to pursuit the “American dream” in order to give my brother and I a better life, is something that I will always be thankful for.
Donald Trump’s recent executive order on immigration is the most un-American thing to happen. Without America’s open arms, I have no idea where my brother and I would be today. Alternative fact, we would be in India. Immigrants are no different than people that were blessed to be born in this country of opportunity. We all have the same end goal, which is to just make a good life for ourselves and our family. On the opposite end of the spectrum, people say that a lax immigration policy creates a national security threat, but that is such a blanket assumption. This toxic idea discredits the hard work of all immigrants who come to America to make a better life. The fundamental nature of America is that you can come here and be anything that you want to be. We are a nation of many religions, languages, and colors- and to me, America would not be the same without that diversity. Interestingly enough, my mother became an immigration attorney. I have seen how her work has changed so many lives for the better (shocker – people come here legally!).
Michaela, Age 15.
My dad’s family came here over 35 years ago when he was at the age of twelve or thirteen because his family found a hard time providing for twelve children in the Philippines due to the lack of job opportunities available at the time. My Aunt Lody came first, and a year prior she told them of all that was available here in comparison. My entire family moved to America, leaving their cousins, aunts, uncles, extended cousins, great aunts, great uncles to come in later years.
By the time they moved to the United States my dad was about to start high school so he was able to have both life experiences living in America and in the Philippines, unlike his siblings, who had a completely different educational experience due to the fact that the Philippines is a very religious island nation. However, education was not the only opportunity he was granted because when my dad was eighteen, he joined the army and was able to not only fight for our country, but also experience more of the world, including Germany, were he was mostly stationed. All this lead to him becoming an United States Postal Service Man, and me receiving an amazing education so far. I can’t imagine what our lives would have ended up like if my family had never immigrated.
I would want so many other families in situation similar to this or even worse to get the opportunity to come to America because the outcome can be astonishing. Due to the restrictions Donald Trump has placed over travel and immigration, many of them won’t be able to get a chance to. This will not only effect the seven countries under the ban, but also the American people. American Citizens will not become more rounded people with the exposure to the different cultures and peoples the world has to offer. Rather, we risk becoming cold and ignorant to the world.
Anonymous, Age 15.
My whole family is from Pakistan. Where extended family has spread out to other countries over the years we are all easily traced back there. I am a first (wish) generation born and raised in America. My mom was born in America but her parents moved back to Pakistan. My dad was born and raised in Pakistan and came to America for his job.
I should start off by saying that I can see where President Trump is coming from. With the terrorist attacks that people have been using Islam to justify, seeing it as a threat is understandable. I implore everyone reading this to look past the media and the news and what you think you know about Islam. The world Islam is derived from the word Peace in Arabic. We are a peaceful and God loving religion. To risk 38,000+ lives from these predominantly Muslim countries to protect us from the very, very, very, (very) small amount of people who are bad in that group doesn’t make sense to me. Here we are with a roof over our heads, food, and a warm bed. How can we ban these people’s entry when we can’t even begin to imagine the hardships these immigrants have gone through? And no matter who does it, whether President Trump or someone else, this is wrong.
We are turning away people who need our help in order to protect ourselves. Our lives are not worth more than theirs, and their lives are not worth more than ours. We are turning them away only because there is a possibly of danger. We must stand on equal footing first as human beings and then as Americans. We should put humanity before our heritage and help others before helping ourselves.