Sumra: Trump’s Muslim ban is more ‘American’ than we think

Eish Sumra, Op-Ed Contributor

In a recent acceptance speech for her Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance By a Female Actor in Comedy Series, Northwestern alumna Julia Louis-Dreyfus called President Trump’s recent executive order “un-American,” joining countless other public figures who have invoked America’s past in condemning the Muslim ban. However, United States history illustrates the ban is in fact symbolic of an America that has always existed.

The U.S. has a long tradition of shunning immigrants. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned Chinese immigration, due to growing racism, until its repeal in 1943. And, prior to 1965, the country had strict quotas on immigration from all countries. In 2011, President Obama called for a halt on Iraqi refugee visas for six months after the FBI discovered evidence of potential terrorist actions by two Iraqi refugees. And throughout the Syrian refugee crisis, America has only accepted around 13,000 people, while Germany took in over 400,000.

In recent years, multiple Republican presidential candidates have proposed similar laws to those Trump has recently implemented. Former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal demanded that Syrian refugees be tracked in 2015, while both Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush stated that Christian refugees should be given preferential treatment. One could easily view Trump’s ban as a policy that only he would be audacious enough to implement, but the president is clearly backed by a number of officials in the Republican party, rendering the federal government an immigration police force.

The ban exemplifies American hypocrisy. The words on the Statue of Liberty read, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” These values are not represented in the country we see today and have seen throughout America’s history. Trump’s election and its resulting administration have illustrated that America boasts the promise of freedom only when it validates America as a benevolent hegemony. This promise of equality in the land of immigrants never seems to apply to those who desperately need it.

America is now willing to deny entry to those fleeing persecution and death in countries that the U.S. administration routinely criticizes for authoritarian practices. The U.S. has spent billions on wars and experiments to spread democracy around the world. The freedom America promotes abroad is not extended to foreigners, many of whom are the victims of wars the U.S. started.

America has had a painfully slow, evolving definition of “citizenship.” This country is founded on a wave of European immigration that decimated the native population. Yet it is the descendents of those European immigrants who dictate America’s racial hierarchy to this day and will continue to do so under the Trump administration. It’s clear that American freedom only applies to those with American privilege. This travel ban is not un-American, but it should be, because America has spent years arrogantly branding itself as the place where all are welcome and all are free.

Eish Sumra is a Medill  junior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.