Here is the text of a letter I sent to my Texas Congressmen in response to Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims and refugees, the Wall, and the ICE raids carried out in Texas last week. Given that it is unlikely to be read by my state reps, I chose to address a broader audience and am now sharing it here in support of all immigrants in our country, regardless of documentation status.
As a Texan, I cannot envision my state without immigration. In Houston, Michel Elias Dabaghi, the son of Lebanese refugees and a world-class innovator in heart surgery, put Texas Medical Center on the map. Without Lebanese-American Clifford Jamal Antone, Austin’s sixth street might never have outshone other Southern blues hubs to make our state’s capitol also the live music capitol of the world. Our state’s most famous universities name Lebanese-American donors among their greatest benefactors: Joe D. Jamail has given over $50 million to the University of Texas, while Michael Halbouty provided not only for buildings, but also the campus’s sponsorship of George H. W. Bush’s presidential library in College Station.
While Syrian and Lebanese immigrants have become a vital part of Texas’ development, Mexican immigration and culture are inextricably bound to the Texan way of life. We should never forget the history of our state and the fact that this land was once Mexico’s, nor the history of the Bracero Program that ultimately led to the relocation of maquiladoras to border towns along the Texas–Mexico border, or the other ways that it permanently altered Mexico’s labor economy and the location of jobs for Mexican workers. Nor should we forget that it was by America’s own hand that the Bracero Program provided only temporary guest worker visas and that, after 20 years of changing the labor economy, abruptly pulled support from these people and made them into undocumented immigrants almost overnight. Moreover, we must never forget that documentation status does not change the basic rights of due process to which a person is constitutionally entitled in this country. Terms like “illegal” and “alien” must be removed from public discourse; they are especially unacceptable coming from our elected officials. Instead of spreading false stereotypes and hate, our representatives should be fighting falsehoods with facts. For example, the majority of undocumented immigrants pay taxes (unlike our president). Immigrants also commit crimes and are incarcerated and significantly lower rates than the natural-born population. Finally, sanctuary cities, which have high concentrations of immigrants, are safer overall and have stronger economies.
Following the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the shift in immigration laws to favor arrivals from the Eastern hemisphere in 1965, new arrivals from East and Southeast Asia began arriving in Texas in much larger numbers. Many were faced with racism, including from the KKK, while others were discriminated against and swindled in the early days of forging their new businesses. Nevertheless, decades later, seven percent of Asian immigrants have settled in Texas. It’s now impossible to imagine the Gulf Coast without Vietnamese culture. In New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina, the Vietnamese community fought to save the city. They were among the first to return after the storm and have embraced new immigration to the city is it has changed and grown in recent years. As Texans and Americans, we have a duty to follow their example and protect our communities and our neighbors, as well as to take responsibility for our country’s actions and fight back when we find them unacceptable.
As a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, I would like to add that my experiences studying in an environment where nearly half the student body comes from outside the United States has left me deeply appreciative of the value of diversity in our world society. No matter how some segments of Western societies revolt against globalization, be it through supporting Trump, Marine Le Pen, or Brexit, we know they have already lost. Globalization has already succeeded in world order, through rapid technological change and the spread of communication networks, and the power of minority voices is all the greater for it. We must learn to leverage this aspect of globalization and stand together in the world community against this isolationist backlash, for these movements are on the losing side of history and we will be the future.
Finally, as someone who has lived abroad on foreign work visas in Russia for several years and benefitted from the experience, I promise to continue to fight for the same opportunities for others to come here. Already we have seen record levels of deportation under the Obama administration. Never forget that our system was far from perfect before January 20, 2017. Our H1-B visas already separated families for years, while our green-card lottery left many disappointed and rejected. Our current fears of racist legislation issued by the Trump administration must lead us to organize and protect our communities like never before. Even if we lose legislative battles—and we will inevitably face losses over the next four years—we must continue to fight the cultural and educational battles in our society. The most important battles in this revolution will be fought in our classrooms and homes, as well as in our state houses, and that fight will take a deep understanding of our history and the persistent will to teach and better our communities by rebuilding our institutions from the ground up. This cannot happen if we don’t work together and strive to heal the cracks in our country.
In the words of John Lewis, in whose footsteps we should all follow:
“We all live in the same house. We all must be part of that effort to hold down our little house. If you see something that’s not right, not fair, not just, do something about it. Say something. Do something. Have the courage. Have the backbone to get in the way. Walk with the wind.”
Yours in love and resistance.