It’s Time to Remove the Price Tag on the “American Dream”

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As the Trump Administration poises itself for a third attempt at the previously deemed unconstitutional Muslim Ban, I found it imperative to enclose my personal encounter with immigrants and Muslims; specifically Muslim refugees.

During the week of March 13, 2017, I had the privilege of volunteering with IEDA Relief, a Houston based non-profit which runs on the platform of “helping communities become more self-sufficient.” While there, I worked with the advanced English as a Second Language (ESL) course, hoping to assist refugees from across the globe in their pursuit of a “typical” and “comfortable” life in America.

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Throughout the day, I recall feeling honored by this experience; it was such a privilege to witness the dedication and devotion of these asylum seekers. I kept thinking, “If only I could show the average American and Islamphobe this scene; would they then humanize the plight of refugees?”

In my “activist” mentality, I reverted to the same character assassination and stereotyping of global refugees as the “Build the Wall” Americans and imperialist humanitarians on the left.

There’s a common misconception regarding immigrants and refugees alike. My entire advocation for the refugee process was subconsciously rooted in the fact that these were “good” and normal human beings who were devoted to family, education, and community. However, if these asylum seekers did not reflect model citizen attributes, would I still advocate for their emigration from Africa, Asia or the Middle East?

According to a recent article from The Guardian, the average American is guilty of only seeing a need for immigration if it boosts the economy, benefits the American workforce, and costs little to no discomfort within the general populace. In the article, Dina Nayeri noted how this perception of refugees is troubling.

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Dina stated, “Even those on the left talk about how immigrants make America great. They point to photographs of happy refugees turned good citizens, listing their contributions, as if that is the price of existing in the same country, on the same earth. Friends often use me as an example. They say in posts or conversations: “Look at Dina. She lived as a refugee and look how much stuff she’s done.” As if that’s proof that letting in refugees has a good, healthy return on investment.

In the recent Netflix comedy sketch “Homecoming King” Daily Show contributor and White House Correspondents dinner host, Hasan Minhaj, came to a conclusion similar to Nayeri’s. Whether refugee of immigrant, Minhaj feels as though “you are always auditioning to prove how much you love this country.”

When tragedy strikes, we’re quick to close our borders as if the only threat to the American Dream comes from the rest of the world.

When political instability and terror ensues we point fingers at all “suspicious” individuals, some solely being profiled based off of the color of their skin, familial heritage, or the sound of their name.

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The recent reactions to the Manchester and London attacks have been striking examples of how not to, and how to, approach attacks and treat Muslims in the aftermath. There was beauty in the widespread outpouring of love and support for the victims and families. There was strength from the community that gathered for the #OneLoveManchester concert.

There is an inspiring sense of compassion for people to come together and refuse to live in fear and contempt when involving singular groups of people. This is not to say that there shouldn’t be outrage. This is not to say that the world should not mourn, but there is another aspect to consider.

In a series of Tweets from @eemanabbasi, Emmi noted: 

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The West devastates Muslim nations, creates vacuums of power. Ppl (naturally) start to hate their murderers. Why shock When West gets attacked?

Don’t condone reactionary violence. But be critical: does West breed or stem terrorism? Do we support refugees after killing their families?

Yet, as Eemi  aptly put it, this isn’t the oppression Olympics.

There is a lack of sympathy concerning those affected by the attacks in Kabul, Mosul, and other areas of the MENA region. Perpetual anxiety and ignorance toward other countries keeps us trapped within the nature of fear.

Due to this, recent opinions and policy pushes regarding refugees and immigrants are purely reactionary. However, closed borders and large, expensive walls will not only fail to solve terrorism, they will also allow the prejudice of immigrants to continue.

There’s no mistaking that the new administration’s push to implement travel bans and extreme vetting is a smokescreen for security “for all” at the expense of the liberty of some. A recent Tweet from the President, later quoted by former Department of Defense Special Counsel and NYU Law Professor Ryan Goodman, says it all. 

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@realDonaldTrump, Donald J. Trump: The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.

@rgoodlaw, Ryan Goodman: Original ban had express religious minority preferences—very clear Establishment Clause violation. Tweet shows DJT’s unconstitutional intent

The travel ban and Trumpian counterterrorism policies like it feigns comfort and safety, and instead uses the criminalization of marginalized groups, as well as the exploitation of the basic American rights of others, to further advance an oppressive agenda.

Refugees are mere scapegoats in a larger battle against radical terrorists who have no consideration for race or religion.

Instead of focusing so heavily on the prerequisites for entry into America, we must be reminded of the words of Dina Nayeri, “a person’s life is never a bad investment.” We need to reject the notion that the American Dream can be bought, only worthy of the highest bidder or most accomplished immigrant. 

The true American Dream is found from shared humanity and true equality, something that must be given to all who seek refuge here regardless of resumes and possible contributions to the national economy, workforce, education system, or otherwise.

 

 

Editor’s Note: Do you want to learn more about the Syrian refugee crisis and how you can help the marginalized communities in your country? Sign up for the Middle East Collective newsletter to get more tips and stories straight to your inbox. Thanks for reading! 

Elizabeth Wright

Elizabeth Wright

Elizabeth is an undergraduate student passionate about diplomacy and international relations. She focuses her studies on terrorism and women in crisis in the MENA, hoping to use her voice to make a difference.

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