The election is over, and every immigrant, refugee, asylum seeker, and human being can now breathe a sigh of a relief.
I wrote this comment, reflecting on the moment, for The Guardian.
I became a citizen of the United States more than nine years ago, but in my heart I remain an immigrant. What I mean by this is something quite simple. I’m constantly aware of the gulf between my experiences as an immigrant and those of the native-born citizens around me.
Some of these differences are trivial, everyday matters, such as the fact that I am still far more fluent in celsius than in fahrenheit (and, honestly, how can the weather possibly reach 100 degrees?). Others reflect differences in upbringing. I can’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance from memory, for example. But the biggest difference is more profound. Unlike most of the native-born, to be an immigrant in this country is to keep one eye always trained on the exit, just in case you’re forced by circumstance to make a dash for your life.
Discussions of the precarious existence of non-citizens are often reserved for the undocumented, for obvious reasons. I’ve never been undocumented, so I can’t speak personally to that experience, but I’ve gone through the gamut of immigration authorizations while living in this country, from being an international student, to landing a work visa, to holding a green card, to becoming a citizen. And while it has ebbed and flowed over the years, that uneasy feeling just won’t go away.
While still an international student, I was driving back to New York City with friends after attending my best friend’s wedding in Lake Placid. On the way, we were stopped by US border patrol. Lake Placid is over 70 miles from the nearest border crossing, and yet the armed agents still demanded to see my passport and student visa, which were tucked safely away in my apartment. Who knows why they let me go. My English-language fluency? My New York state-issued driver’s license? The fact that a native-born American in the car vouched for me? And this was long ago. I can only imagine how this same scene would have played out during the Trump administration.
I was in Manhattan during the September 11 terrorist attacks. I recall not just the endless horror of that event but also how the fallout from the attacks burned like wildfire through immigrant Muslim communities around the country. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq brought microscopic scrutiny by the FBI to Muslim communities. And every time I crossed a border or had to deal with the authorities, I would get extremely anxious and then worry even more that this same rising anxiety would be used as a cause for suspicion against me. I probably wasn’t a lot of fun to travel with.
As horrible as those times were, and they were often very frightening indeed, they still don’t compare to Muslim immigrant life in this country when Donald Trump rose to political prominence and then became president. While there was a period immediately following the September 11 attacks that was characterized by large-scale vigilante violence, the prevailing position of both George W Bush and the Obama administration was to contain the vigilantes by essentially co-opting their violence. In effect, this left the vigilantes out in the cold. During the Bush and Obama years, Muslim immigrants in the country felt targeted far more by the government and its specific policies – everything from the Bush administration’s Special Registration program to Obama’s Countering Violent Extremism – than by attacks by vengeful citizens.
That changed with Trump, who ushered in dramatic rises to all kinds of hate crimes, including anti-Muslim hate crimes, with his political consolidation. What Donald Trump accomplished in becoming president was the unification of this country’s rightwing vigilante movements with the awesome resources of the federal government. The result was that violence was coming at us from all sides.
Read the rest here.