The Trump administration’s travel ban has dominated the news in the past weeks. All eyes turned toward the United States after President Trump announced he was halting admittance into the country for all refugees, as well as any travelers who were passport holders of seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
On Friday, Federal Judge James L. Robart blocked Trump’s executive order, and officials immediately began communicating with airlines to allow people affected by the ban on to planes. It’s not clear how long the judge’s block will last, with the Trump administration promising to overturn the Judge’s ruling “at the earliest possible time.”
With the fate of immigration in America uncertain, many Americans remain divided about what is or isn’t “right” when it comes to accepting refugees during a tense political time in history.
Most things — people, religion, love, fear — are nuanced. It’s never just black and white. It’s only natural to respond to acts of violence with fear, but when we allow this fear to consume us we risk falling victim to bias, stereotyping, and overgeneralizing — things that do far more harm than good. To suggest refugees, Muslims, or residents of a list of countries should be kept out of the United States, because some of them might be terrorists, is akin to suggesting all Christians should be kicked out because some of them might belong to the KKK — it’s not kind, and it’s not logical.
I think it’s important to remember America has a long legacy of accepting refugees (after an extensive vetting process), and many of those refugees have built amazing lives for themselves — and lasting, American legacies.
These are just a few:
Madeleine Albright — First Female Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright’s family immigrated to the U.S. while fleeing communist takeover in the Czech Republic, settling in Denver. She went on to become an Ambassador to the U.N. and, most notably, the first-ever female Secretary of State. Since then, Albright has been an outspoken proponent of women’s rights and has publicly condemned the Trump administration’s travel ban.
Sergey Brin — Google Co-founder
After relocating to Maryland from the former Soviet Union with his parents, who were Jewish academics fleeing religious persecution, Sergey Brin went on to co-found this little search engine company you may have heard of — Google. Brin has been spotted at various pro-refugee rallies in San Francisco.
Alia Shawkat — Actress
You probably know her as Maeby Fünke from “Arrested Development.” You should know her as Alexander Hamilton in arguably the best-ever episode of “Drunk History,” or as the star of the brand-new show “Search Party.” “Like many of our nominees here tonight, we represent people who have come from other cultures, and that’s a real fact,” the Iraqi-American actress said during her speech at last week’s Screen Actors Guild awards, during which she also used an Arabic greeting: “Assalamu alaikum,” which means “peace be with you.“
Steve Jobs — Apple Co-founder
The Apple co-founder and inventor is responsible for some of the most relevant technology of our time. His biological father immigrated to the U.S. from Syria in the 1950’s.
Anousheh Ansari — Entrepreneur and First Iranian Space Traveler
Entrepreneur and space traveler Anousheh Ansari left Iran and came to the U.S. as a teenager who didn’t speak English. She went on to obtain American citizenship, earn a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering, and become the first Iranian to travel to space.
Pierre Omidyar — eBay Founder
Born in Paris to two Iranian parents, Pierre Omidyar eventually came to the U.S., where he became a citizen – and, you know, founded eBay. NBD.
Regina Spektor — Musician
Regina Spektor’s family left the former Soviet Union in the late 1980’s and traveled to the U.S. on refugee visas. Spektor was a classically trained pianist but, unable to bring her prized piano with her, practiced with her fingers against a table until she found a piano in her synagogue basement to practice with.
Jerry Seinfeld — Comedian
Can you get any more famous than Jerry Seinfeld? The “Seinfeld” co-creator’s mother was Jewish and Syrian, with his grandparents hailing from Aleppo, the Syrian city now the epicenter of the modern refugee crisis.
Alexis Ohanian — Reddit Founder
Alexis Ohanian’s parents fled Armenia‘s political unrest to settle in Brooklyn. That’s where Ohanian, the founder of Reddit, was born and raised.
Christiane Amanpour — Journalist
Born in London, raised in Iran, and now a naturalized American citizen, Christiane Amanpour had a multi-cultural upbringing — no surprise, considering she is one of the best-known international journalists of our time. The CNN host publicly called for kindness and understanding toward refugees in 2015, writing “we can all afford to be human.”
What would the world look like right now if these people and their families had not been allowed to come to the U.S.? Would we live in a world without Apple, without Google? Would the Silicon Valley Tech Boom — an event that changed the world economy forever — have even happened? Are we really prepared to imagine a world without “Seinfeld”?
I think there’s measurable danger in reducing real lives into numbers, stereotypes, or anything that makes it easy to think of any group as less than what they are: human. The people on this little list (and countless others) have accomplished so much and touched our lives because they, or their parents, or their grandparents, immigrated with the hope of a better life. Closing that door limits that potential. With our kindness comes our capacity for greatness.