Dear President Trump,
Upon learning of your executive order targeting refugees and immigrants who hope finally to find safety and liberty in the U.S., I thought about how grateful I am that my grandmother, a Jew born in Berlin in 1930, was able to immigrate to the U.S. in 1938.
In doing so, unlike the less fortunate members of our family, she escaped the Nazi regime that would have killed her.
My grandmother dedicated her life to serving others, helping countless U.S. residents as an occupational therapist and a teacher.
She was also consistently committed to volunteering and devoted her time and energy to more service, educational, and charitable organizations than I can name in this letter. Because she was able to find refuge in the U.S., she not only lived a long and fulfilling life but also improved the lives of numerous others.
When I think about the respects in which this country is already “great” – to use a keyword from your campaign – I know I owe a vast debt of gratitude to immigrants like my grandmother, who did not seek merely to save her own life by coming to the U.S. Indeed, my grandmother wanted to live, in part, so that she could also help others in need live more rewarding lives.
Neither my grandmother’s will to live nor her desire to help others, however, distinguishes her from the majority of refugees and immigrants who seek to come to the U.S.
For example, Seyed Soheil Saeedi Saravi, a talented scientist from Iran, flew to the U.S. to dedicate his intelligence, time, and energy to studying cardiovascular medicine as a fellow at Harvard.
His research at Harvard could ultimately benefit millions of lives in the U.S., but the executive order that now prevents him from entering the country suggests not simply that he is unwelcome; it also suggests that the lives he has the potential to improve are not as important to the U.S. Executive Branch as fending off a nonexistent threat.
I think it is clear to anyone genuinely concerned with accurately identifying terrorist threats to the U.S. that Seyed Soheil Saeedi Saravi is not a terrorist. Professor Thomas Michel, who would have supervised this scientist’s research, noted that he had already undergone the rigorous vetting necessary to obtain a visa before he traveled to the U.S.
Your executive order is also preventing refugees who have gone through an even more stringent vetting process than other immigrants in order to enter the U.S. from finding the safety and liberty they desire and deserve.
Your executive order sends at least three unfortunate messages to the rest of the world. First, it invites those in other countries to conclude that U.S. laws and policies will now primarily be driven by unfounded, counterproductive fears about people whose religious and ethnic backgrounds are not dominant in our country.
Second, it gives those in other countries good reason to suspect that the U.S. Executive Branch lacks any sense of magnanimity and is utterly indifferent to the plight of those in dire need of safety and liberty.
Third, it suggests to those of us living in the U.S. that the Executive Branch does not have our best, long-term interests in mind.
If the Executive Branch did have our best, long-term interests in mind, I believe it would be welcoming more people like my grandmother and Seyed Soheil Saeedi Saravi into the country – that is, more people who wish not only to thrive but also to use their talents to help others do so.
Respectfully, I ask that you consider the implications of your recent executive order and reflect on what it suggests is in your heart. Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President, has argued that our conclusions about your character or your capacity to govern should be based on what is in your heart.
It is particularly difficult for me to believe that someone whose heart is full of courage, magnanimity, and wisdom would issue an executive order excluding previously vetted refugees and immigrants from our country despite the lack of any evidence that they pose a threat to us.
Please show those of us whom you govern and the rest of the world that you can be a courageous, magnanimous, and wise leader by reversing your executive order and creating more opportunities for refugees and immigrants to flourish in the U.S.
I will conclude this dispatch by quoting the last three paragraphs of a letter that the HIAS – a Jewish organization that works to help and protect refugees – wrote in response to your executive order:
“For decades, the United States has successfully and proudly resettled refugees fleeing war, violence, and persecution. Each of these refugees has been selected and thoroughly vetted so that we can all welcome with confidence the lucky few refugees who have a chance to build new lives in safety and freedom. Welcoming diverse newcomers into our communities has strengthened our social fabric and made America more prosperous and competitive in a changing world.
“We are proud to stand with over 1,700 American rabbis who call on you to keep America’s doors open to refugees. The Jewish community has seen America at its best – when many of our families were given opportunities to gain education, join the workforce, and become part of building our great nation. Tragically we have also seen xenophobia overwhelm our nation’s capacity for compassion, and we have seen the doors slam shut in our greatest hours of need.
“With more people forced to flee their homes than at any time in recorded history, We urge you to reconsider your decision and do everything you can to continue America’s bipartisan, centuries-long commitment to welcoming and protecting refugees.”
Indeed, America’s longstanding, bipartisan tradition of welcoming and protecting refugees and immigrants along with those refugees and immigrants themselves have gone a long way toward making America great. Discontinuing this tradition will only diminish our country’s greatness.
There are millions of people – mothers, grandmothers, scientists, artists, and entrepreneurs – hoping to find a better life, or even just a way to keep living, in the U.S. Their talent and grit will help make America great – like my grandmother’s did.