We usually don’t go into politics around here. Most of you probably know this site for Jorfimus’s music and literature reviews. But this is an issue on which I just can’t keep silent anymore.
Last week Friday, Donald Trump signed an executive order banning any travelers who are citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States with no exceptions. Green card holders, although apparently they’re not banned anymore. Other permanent residents. Foreign exchange students. People with work visas.
And as many of my fellow Americans and other people around the world gathered in airports to protest the order, I found a little tidbit of information that inviolably relates me to those people that Trump has excluded.
This is my paternal grandfather’s 1966 “Alien Address Report.” Non-citizens had to fill out the report and submit it to the government annually with their address as of January 1 of any given year or within ten days of any change of permanent address, as required by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. In addition to their current address, they were required to report their current job, the date and location they first arrived in the United States, and their reason for coming. We can see that my grandfather came from China and that he first set foot in the United States in Alaska, in 1963.
But let’s take a closer look at box 10:
My grandfather came as a refugee from China.
It, along with some other information I’ve found, corroborates the story I’ve been told by my parents: that my grandfather and his whole family, which included my grandmother and all but one of their kids (including my father; their last child was born in the US) left China to escape Chairman Mao, moving to Hong Kong and then to America. It may have also been at the behest of my great-grandfather, who was then living in Chicago, and that was where my family briefly stayed before ultimately settling in New York. But that’s besides the point here.
In the eyes of the US government, my grandfather, my grandmother, my father, and all but one of my aunts and uncles were let into the United States from China as refugees.
In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law by President Chester Arthur. Let’s read parts of it.
Whereas in the opinion of the Government of the United States the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory thereof: Therefore,
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That from and after the expiration of ninety days next after the passage of this act, and until the expiration of ten years next after the passage of this act, the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States be, and the same is hereby, suspended; and during such suspension it shall not be lawful for any Chinese laborer to come, or having so come after the expiration of said ninety days to remain within the United States.
Note that the act specifically targets laborers. Problem is, back then, just about every “Chinaman” was a laborer. So in effect, it was a blanket ban on all Chinese people from entering the United States.
SEC. 3. That the two foregoing sections shall not apply to Chinese laborers who were in the United States on the seventeenth day of November, eighteen hundred and eighty, or who shall have come into the same before the expiration of ninety days next after the passage of this act, and who shall produce to such master before going on board such vessel, and shall produce to the collector of the port in the United States at which such vessel shall arrive, the evidence hereinafter in this act required of his being one of the laborers in this section mentioned…
In other words, those who had arrived before the act went into effect were safe from deportation. Also sounds familiar.
To add insult to injury, any Chinese who left the country and desired re-entry had to prove that they had been living in the US before the act came into force. And in one case, an American citizen of Chinese descent, Ju Toy, was deemed subject to deportation, even though he was supposed to be immune from the provisions of the act as a citizen.
SEC. 14. That hereafter no State court or court of the United States shall admit Chinese to citizenship; and all laws in conflict with this act are hereby repealed.
Speaks for itself.
Ten years later, the provisions of the act were extended, along with a new provision that all Chinese had to register with the government or face deportation. Congress only repealed the act in 1943–only during the Second World War, when China was an ally of the United States, and only after the Japanese had replaced the Chinese as America’s Most Hated Asian People.
This is why Donald Trump’s #muslimban sickens me to the core.
Replace “Chinese laborer” with “citizen of Libya, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, or Somalia” and you’ve basically got Trump’s executive order. Just as the act didn’t explicitly ban all Chinese, but only a “certain class” of them, so the executive order doesn’t specifically ban all Muslims, just those from “certain countries.” But in both cases, those “certain” people mostly happen to fall under the first category, so it’s a virtually indiscriminate ban that is discriminatory in nature.
Put it this way: if my grandfather had lived in an earlier era, or if he had Syrian citizenship and had trying to gain entry to the US as of late, he would have been banned from entry and sent back.
Even the criticism of the Exclusion Act back then was eerily similar to the criticism of Trump’s executive order. Republican senator George Hoar called it “nothing less than the legalization of racial discrimination.”
And that’s not getting into the reasons why these people are leaving their homes. They want to escape their war-torn homelands or oppressive regimes. They want to be able to provide for their families. They want better lives for themselves and for their loved ones. These are all things that my grandparents got. Even up until their deaths, they couldn’t speak a word of English. Yet they lived full lives and even completely owned their own home–no mortgage to pay off, nothing. It deeply saddens me that as of right now, and for the foreseeable future, no family from a country covered under the ban that had been trying to come to the US and hadn’t made it in time will ever be able to do the same.
Trump claims that what he is doing is similar to the refugee ban President Obama put in place on Iraqi refugees in 2011. This is, of course, an alternative fact. Two suspected terrorists had already slipped in under the radar, and Obama simply strengthened the vetting process shortly after they were arrested.
There was a credible threat to the safety of Americans. Trump issued his blanket ban under no such threat and picked his seven countries based on sentiments of fear and xenophobia.
And he seems likely to fire those who stand up to his power-drunk, petulant tantrums–as he just did with Sally Yates, now former acting Attorney General, who directed the Justice Department not to defend the executive order in court.
I don’t trust that it will only last for 90 days. The Chinese Exclusion Act was only supposed to last for 10 years.
Let’s take another look at my grandfather’s Alien Address Report. In 1963, as had been since 1943, only 105 aliens of Chinese descent were allowed into the United States. Which means my grandfather and his family either got really lucky, or that special status was allowed to refugees. Unfortunately, for people from those seven nations under Trump’s ban, it is now impossible to get lucky.
I wanted to give Donald Trump a chance. I really, really did.
But not even two weeks in and he’s abjectly failed the spot-test.
Ordering the dismantling of Obamacare and starting the process of building that damn wall was bad enough, but this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Because in a different era, I would have been excluded. I would have been deported. And this administration has made the same mistake.
The time to hold Trump’s feet to the fire has long since passed, but now we have even more of an obligation to do it.
No ban. No wall. No hate. No fear.