Maybe it is because they don’t know Ali, my Iraqi client who risked his life to serve as a translator for our troops, who wrote me every few days from Baghdad for weeks and weeks, terrified for his family’s safety, not daring to leave their apartment while he waited for their immigrant visa interview because he knew he could be targeted at any time for having helped the Americans. I don’t think I will ever forget the photo he sent me once he’d finally arrived safely, beaming with his wife and baby daughter inside a U.S. toy store.
Or, it must be because they don’t know Raina, my Libyan client who is petrified that her visa petition – already taking much longer than it should due to the incompetency and inefficiency of our cumbersome bureaucratic process - might somehow be denied and that she, her husband and three young daughters might be forced to return to Libya.
It must be because not enough people know people like these. Notice I said people - not “aliens,” not “terrorists,” not “Muslims,” not “rapists,” not “illegals” - but people. It must be that all of the sweeping generalizations and stereotypes have made us forget that we are talking about human beings here, not some homogeneous mass that can be scapegoated and painted as the cause of all our problems. That must be why the bigoted, hate-filled rhetoric of the likes of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpFormer US envoy: No good military options against North Korea Trump official and TV surrogate leaving White House: reports Biden: I regret not being president MORE can garner anything other than the 100% disgust, disdain and repudiation that it deserves. That must be why legislation to block Syrian refugees fleeing unspeakable danger can gain any support at all in this country. That must be why we are so afraid that we are even willing to consider rejecting the principles of fundamental fairness, compassion and humanity that make this country great.
I am so saddened to live in a time when ignorance and fear have propelled a fascist fearmonger to the top of the presidential polls. But Donald Trump’s latest plan to prohibit any Muslim from entering the United States is more than just sad; it is dangerous, it is vile and it is wrong. It is also counter-productive to the goal of preventing terrorism. By targeting an entire group of people based on their religious belief, we would be creating exactly the kind of stark “us vs. them” conflict that terrorism seeks to stoke and perpetuate, generating new levels of hatred and misunderstanding by dividing Americans from other peoples of the world at a time when we should be embracing our common humanity and enlisting support of the millions of Muslims around the world who condemn and denounce terrorism.
While we must of course be vigilant and take every precaution to protect our country against those who would do us violence, we must accomplish this objective without abandoning our common decency or our fundamental values as a nation. I am frankly horrified at the number of Americans who have become so blinded by fear that they do not see this.
This must end.
And we must all do our part to stop it. We must tell the stories of our clients, loudly and clearly and repeatedly, as often and in as many different forums as we can. We must educate the media and everyone else we know about the laws that are in place to protect us, while simultaneously promoting the principles of human rights, fundamental fairness and freedom of opportunity that are the cornerstone of democracy. We must call out hatred and bigotry wherever we see it and whatever the source. We must stand up against fear-driven legislation that alienates our allies and harms innocents while doing nothing to make us safer. And we must never, ever forget that our greatest strength is our diversity and our willingness to protect and promote individual rights and liberties in a free and open society.
Minear is an immigration attorney from Richmond, Virginia and secretary of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. The people referred to are real, but their names have been changed to protect their identities.