Embedded in the foundations and values of our country, is a history of welcoming all people to our country – immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers. This long history of welcoming others has strengthened our country in many ways. Our values have been tested at times, yet even in the face of terror we know what is right and we know our values. After the attacks of 9/11, George W. Bush stated: “America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country.” For generations, and through times of great strife, presidents have recommitted to our founding principles and found strength through our diversity.
When we have succumbed to public opinion and forsaken these obligations whether it be slavery, the treatment of Native Americans, Japanese internment camps and the ill- fated journey of the St. Louis, we have hung our heads and apologized in shame at the justice denied. We know that at those times we were the worst of America. Let us not repeat it, because, as we know, “those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
George Washington laid the principle clearly: “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respected Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges” and it has carried on from generation to generation, even in times of terror. Americans, both old and new, are a made up of the most diverse backgrounds. That is what gives us our strength, even in times of terror.
The recent executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries is fundamentally un-American. It is un-American to discriminate based on religion. It is un-American to turn away those in need and fleeing conflict. It is un-American to close our doors. It is un-American to forget our responsibility to do the right thing.
The justifications provided by the administration and within the Executive Order do not begin to show a balance between the need to protect our country from terror, and the need to remain true to our values. All Americans seek to prevent terrorists from coming into the country. The question is how this can be done, and the manner articulated in this Executive Order is grounded in distortions. None of the seven countries addressed by this ban were involved in the 9/11 attacks, the ban conflates religion and radicals and in doing so, we lose our humanity and we lose the foundation of our country.
As someone who has dedicated the past six years of her life to refugee and immigration work, I am ready for action. Those who are risking their lives in pursuit of safety and opportunity should not be blocked by bigotry. It is our duty as citizens to engage in the conversations taking place throughout our country. It is our responsibility to act, to educate decision makers on the facts, to protect those fleeing persecution, and to remain true to the founding principles of our country. Now, more than ever is the time to find our voices and become advocates.
For the moment, the suspension of the ban has been upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, it is not over and thus more important than ever to become an informed advocate and stand up for something that is truly un-American.
My name is Sarah Strum and I stand with refugees because I’m an American and my people were refugees too.