As the daughter of a South Asian immigrant, I grew up learning lessons of courage, hard work, and patriotism from my mother. To me, those who made the long and grueling journey to the United States embody the American spirit of perseverance and sacrifice, no matter where they came from. I see anti-immigration remarks as an insult to the foundations and backbone of this country. Thus, when I heard that President Donald Trump suggested accepting fewer immigrants from so-called “shithole countries” (referencing Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries) in a private meeting with lawmakers, according to “The Washington Post,” I was filled with embarrassment and disgust.
Calling any country a “shithole” is disgraceful and inappropriate for a world leader, especially coming from America, a nation that has devastated many countries with white colonialism. Even more disturbingly, President Trump reportedly suggested in the meeting that the U.S. should accept more immigrants from countries like Norway. In truth, the President’s apparent preference for immigrants from these countries has nothing to do with immigration and everything to do with the “contamination” of white dominance within the United States. Because immigrants from Europe are white, they appear to have a better chance of integrating into the American Dream. President Trump’s statement suggests that he believes whiter immigrants offer more to our nation.
But more vexing than Trump’s racist stratum of the quality of immigrants was the implication that certain immigrants are only qualified to be second-hand citizens in America. I was angered most by the statement by White House spokesperson Raj Shah: “Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people.” What Shah misses is that immigrants from countries deemed “shitholes” by the President are still Americans. No one endures the demanding process of immigration and resettlement to be treated as a second-class citizen. My neighbors, who immigrated from Haiti, are just as American as those whose ancestors fought in the American Revolution. It is impossible to claim to fight for the American people when deporting refugees and immigrants who have lived and contributed to the U.S. for decades.
Particularly, President Trump seemed to take aim at Haitian refugees, many of whom are environmental refugees with temporary protection status in the U.S., according to “The New York Times.” My native south Florida is home to the largest population of Haitian immigrants in the country. My neighbors, who live a simple trip up the stairs away from me, came to the U.S. decades ago as political refugees escaping the reign of a brutal dictator. My neighbors stand proud of their heritage and culture in the face of the President’s comments. They are proud that, even as the President calls their homeland a “shithole,” they contribute to our economy and live fulfilling lives. Many immigrants, like my neighbors, hold executive positions in their workplace and are active participants of the workforce. In fact, according to the Migration Policy Institute, 71 percent of eligible Haitian immigrants participate in the civilian workforce, while this is true for only 62 percent of the native-born population.
Turning away people who have faced the unthinkable because they are not the ideal immigrant is not only inhumane — it’s nonsensical. What defines an ideal immigrant? How do we decide who to welcome and who to spurn? Regardless, whether coming out of necessity or simply opportunity, immigrants offer unique contributions to the American society and economy. My mother certainly did, as do all the Haitian immigrants in my community. America was founded on immigrants, and whether President Trump likes it or not, the strength of America comes from immigration. We must publicly support immigrants and defend their contributions to society, while also challenging stereotypes and our own personal biases surrounding poorer immigrants of color coming from developing countries, even if our own government does not.
Megan Vaz is a Junio from Weston, Fla.