I forget that I am the child of an immigrant because I am white

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In 2017, as I watched the protests against Donald Trump’s executive order “temporarily” banning travel and new visas for individuals and refugees from seven “terrorism-prone” countries, I couldn’t believe how badly the act as a whole seemed antithetical to the American. personage.

“We are a country of immigrants! I ranted at my wife. “Certainly we are a country of immigrants who stole this land from the natives who already lived here, but isn’t that meant to be the American experience? All the mythology of America that we tell ourselves? That this is a magical melting pot that thrives on diversity? “

“I can’t even imagine how children of immigrant parents are feeling right now,” I told him.

My wife looked up from what she was reading. “Uh, honey, you are beautiful the child of an immigrant.

Oh yes.

My father was an immigrant.

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I am technically a second generation American. My father came to the United States in the late 1960s, looking to improve his life and earn enough money to be able to send extra funds to his struggling family whenever he could.

He was a worker. A bricklayer, a bricklayer who helped build buildings in downtown Detroit. He was proud to live in America but never became a full American citizen. He was a “foreigner” and an immigrant until the day he died.

So why, in my indignation at the immigration decree, did I forget that my own father was himself an immigrant?

Because he was white. And I am white.

I don’t remember my father as an immigrant because people never treated him as such.

My father could pass. He looked like any other white American you would see on television.

The only gift was his voice.

He was from Scotland and had a heavy accent which was part Sean Connery, part Mike Myers from So I married an ax murderer.

People would be delighted – not scared or annoyed – when they heard his accent. I vividly remember a woman bringing her friends to hear my father say the word “ostrich” once.

White Americans did not see my father as a threat. He was not there to take their job or sow terror on their shores. He was one of them. A nice return to their Anglo-Saxon roots.

But come to think of it, didn’t he “take” their job by working here?

And the truth is, my father went through EXACTLY the same immigrant story as most immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

The United States promised him new life. There were opportunities there. There were options that would never have been available to him in his country of birth.

All he wanted was to work hard, contribute to society and maybe also find a way to support his family in Scotland.

If you look at the lives of most of those detained at airports over the weekend, their stories are remarkably similar.

They wanted to fit in somewhere, start somewhere new. They wanted to be closer to their family, they wanted opportunities.

They took the American promise at its word.

They believed, like my father, that it was a country built by immigrants. A country that appreciated and accepted different cultures and beliefs.

But why do these immigrants find such mistrust and hatred from the US government, when my own immigrant father barely registered himself as a “stranger” to our neighbors and our community?

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It has a lot to do with race.

They were not terrorist suspects detained at airports across the country.

Despite what some fearful Americans might tell you, there is already a fairly rigorous screening process for immigrants and refugees entering our country. Can it be improved? Sure. But so many people detained – children, grandmothers, entire families – have not been arrested because of a credible terrorist risk.

They were arrested because of the color of their skin. Of course, not officially, but we all know that.

They were arrested because, even though they had already passed a million hurdles to get their green cards, the US government chose to show their muscles and point an accusing finger at them, simply because of the country in which they were born.

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As many have pointed out, the decree does not even make much sense in terms of racism or terrorist panic, because none of the terrorists who committed September 11 or any of the atrocities that followed against our country. actually came from the seven ”Islamic countries.

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(I know this list of countries would be from the Obama administration, but that administration also never declared an executive order that would view innocent detainees as criminals and incite thousands of people to demonstrate at airports.)

More than anything, I know this would NEVER have happened to my dad.

He had Irish family and when he arrived in the United States multiple terrorist attacks took place each year in Ireland and Britain.

But that didn’t flag him as a potential risk.

Oh, and one more thing:

Donald Trump’s mother was an immigrant. Our new First Lady is an immigrant.

As a nation, we don’t have a conceptual problem with “immigrants”.

We have a problem with immigrants of certain skin colors and certain religions.

It does not protect our borders. It is not to be pragmatic or prudent. It’s racism. It is xenophobia.

The United States of America LOVES immigrants with cute accents, familiar skin tones, or legs long enough to win a beauty pageant or grab the attention of a New York billionaire.

When we randomly limit travel because of your country of origin – without first consulting other federal agencies and without considering a person’s past immigrant status – we are showing the worst America has to. to offer.

We show that the United States likes to choose what we think of our immigrants. If you are a lovely Scotsman or a Slavic fashion model, please bring us your tired, your poor, your crowded masses yearning to breathe freely.

But if you’re from a country that makes the mainstream America racially or culturally nervous, it doesn’t matter if you’ve lived here for decades – we’re okay to rewrite the rules without warning and tell you we won’t let you. not enter the country if you leave.

It’s a side of America my dad never had to see, in large part because of his skin color.

Tom Burns is a husband, father and veteran of the educational publishing industry.

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This essay was originally published on January 31, 2017.

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