7 young immigrants on their hopes and fears for trump’s america

As ICE launches more raids on immigrant communities, young people are coming together to prepare themselves and their families for the future.

by Nadya Agrawal
25 April 2017, 3:21pm

photography martin patrick via flickr

As the Trump administration mounts more and more legislation to limit the entrance of migrants into the United States, including appealing blocks against its "Muslim Ban"and targeting sanctuary cities with ICE raids, those already here are becoming increasingly nervous about their role in this new America. Even naturalized citizens and immigrants holding documentation that allows them to stay have grown scared of how their legal status might change in the coming months.

When the travel ban was first implemented on January 27, leading to the detention of travelers all around the country, thousands of protesters descended on major airports to speak out against it. In the days since, activists have been working in immigrant communities to educate on civil rights. The ACLU is currently suing Trump over the travel ban, citing its religious discrimination as unconstitutional. And organized efforts to help and protect are on the rise. But fear remains a constant.

We spoke to seven young first- and second-generation immigrants about how they're preparing themselves and their families to take on immigration policy changes. Two common themes kept recurring in our conversations: how alien many now feel in their home country, and how drastically they've had to change their travel plans just to stay safe.

Tori Mumtaz, 21, New York City, NY; Student
Country of origin: Pakistan
My family and I are very privileged to be able to live comfortably in the States with citizenship. This was the first time in my memory that there was real tension palpable within my house because of American politics. All of us sat around the dinner table and frankly discussed putting a hold on our travel plans for the time being. My mother, who had been wanting to fly to Pakistan to visit her aging parents that month, decided to put a hold on her trip. My parents have always tended to believe that since they have done no wrong, and have nothing to hide, nothing bad will be done to them. I sent them emails with links to CAIR's "Know Your Rights" pamphlets, and screenshots of posts by lawyers and activists I follow on social media, advising people not to engage in conversation with law enforcement without the presence of a lawyer. It's hard to explain to them that sometimes, being an "upstanding member of society" is not enough, that my dad's brown skin or my mom's headscarf or their accents or our foreign names can sometimes be enough to provoke unjust treatment from law enforcement, or hateful actions by other Americans.

The weekend that the original travel ban came out was total chaos for me, emotionally. I was in shock that something that seemed so dystopic was happening in my own country. It felt like a precursor to something more ominous, and we simply didn't know how we would be affected since even visa and green card holders were suddenly being prevented from entering the country.

That same weekend, my aunt's mosque and community center in Victoria, Texas burned down. The fire occurred in the dead of night that Saturday, and though it hasn't been officially ruled arson, it was one of a slew of mosques to burn in just a few months' time across the country. This was devastating for my family — my cousins, who are 10 and 13 years old, had spent hours there every week after school getting tutored and learning about Islam. That mosque was the physical center of a vibrant and diverse community of Muslims. I celebrated Eid Al Fitr there last summer. To see photos of the structure in ashes was heartbreaking, on top of the constant news updates on the travel ban.

I am critical of American policy, but have always had some degree of optimism for the American ideal of liberty, equality, and respect for civil rights. We have never completely met that ideal as a country, but it is something that I believe is worth striving for. Now, with each new policy going into effect, it feels like every day is a reminder of how unwelcome I am in so much of this country. Banning refugees from Iraq and Syria felt like the ultimate punch in the gut. Nobody wants to help those suffering from the wars that our own country precipitated. Iraqi citizens who helped American troops, who risked their lives for American ideals, had to find out in the ugliest way that those ideals are a sham. I wanted to believe the best of people, and of this country, and the disappointment I felt and still feel is overwhelming.

Porochista Khakpour, 39, New York; Novelist/Journalist/Professor
Country of origin: Iran
I have been staying on top of the news constantly and trying to update everyone I know on relevant legislation (or rather all the legislation that is being destroyed). I have several groups of Iranian journalist friends who I've been talking to as well as trying to urge my parents in California to be cautious. I'd been begging my father to become a U.S. citizen (he's a permanent resident with a green card) but I'm not sure if it's working. I've been working with other Iranians — students and such — to connect them to immigration lawyers, activist groups, all sorts of advocacy outreach. I myself have been eying all sorts of escape plans — Canada! Mexico! — but also trying to remain realistic and grounded and not give up on my neighborhood in Harlem which is mostly Muslim.

It has felt horrifying. We were refugees to this country from Iran. Managing my PTSD has proven very challenging. I've been severely depressed at points in recent months, not because this is new but precisely because this is an old feeling and old reality. I sometimes don't know how much more I can take and then I wake up again and I take more. Constant new lows. One murky hope I have is that POTUS is so inept he won't be able to do the worst. But my more shining hope is the future, meaning my students and what young people will bring to this world. I get excited imagining a world they will run.

H.S. 26, Campbell, CA; Nursing Student/Office Manager
Country of origin: Iran
[I feel] lucky that we're all U.S. citizens, but [my family] had to cancel plans for a trip to Iran for New Year's Eve. We've been reading into our rights and making sure that we know what to do if ICE representatives or government security officials try to detain us against our will. We've also been trying to keep all travel plans low-key (road or day trips). I have been thinking of moving out of the country but I can't because of school.

The executive government has generalized all Muslim and/or Middle Eastern countries as nations that are "breeding" terrorism, but they fail to see that they themselves have bred hatred and terror in our country. Iran has never initiated or taken part in any act of terrorism.

In every religion, there is the good, bad, and the ugly. The Christians during the Crusades, ISIS with their radical so-called "Islamic" revolution. Do we perceive Christianity as a religion of terror? How is Islam any different?

Salvin Chahal, 22, Sacramento, CA; Artist/Community Organizer/Student
Country of origin: India
I've been checking up on all my family and friends. I've tried to figure out their paperwork, offered my home to others, shared resources, and also tried to understand that how I look and the subject matter in my conversations can be used against me. I'm making sure I educate my peers during these times.

As a kid I was always told not to grow my hair longer or keep a thick beard because that was an image people feared. As I grew older decided to grow out my hair and beard and now I see people around me cutting their hair and [making their] name shorter to come off as less of a "threat." I've been traveling a lot recently and these days I wear more fear on my face than anything else. The way people have been looking at me in the airports is disgusting and I don't want to change the way I dress or cut my hair because others feel uncomfortable. I'm scared just like how I was when I was a kid post 9/11. The only difference today is that I'm actually able to do something about it with my privilege as an artist, organizer, and space activator. I flaunt the way I look and sound because as a kid it was ridiculed so much I began to hate it too. It hurts to know that the same fear and disgust my peers and I experienced has come back.

Ludmila Leiva, 26, Brooklyn, NY; Writer/Illustrator
Countries of origin: Canada, Guatemala, Slovakia
As a light-skinned Latina and American citizen, the threat of the wall has led me to acknowledge the immense privileges I have. I am unlikely to be stopped by an officer and asked to provide proof of my citizenship or residency. I am not at risk for being deported. Regardless of this, I have deep connections to my mother's home country of Guatemala. I am profoundly aware of the myriad ways in which the instability of Guatemala (and many other countries in Latin America) can be directly traced back to U.S. foreign policy and imperialism. Our current political state has deepened my connection to my Latin American roots and diasporic communities in the United States. Though I don't have to prepare in the same way as some, I have been preparing, emotionally, to advocate for those in my community who are spoken over, silenced, or otherwise oppressed, whether bureaucratically or socially, by this country and its policies.

I am constantly disheartened by the insidious ways that this country's many forms of deliberate and systematic oppression are upheld. There is not one day that goes by when I do not consider my privilege and wonder what more I can do to help those who fall asleep every single night wondering when the next ICE raid will be, or whether they will be separated from their American-born children and family members. I do not know how it feels to be in that position, but I do know that these people deserve to feel held up and validated by others, both within and outside of their community.

Najma Sharif, 22, Brooklyn; Editorial Director/Writer
Country of origin: Somalia
The majority of my family is here in the United States, so the ban didn't impact my life in the same way some of my friends were impacted. My mom, aunts, uncles and cousins are all citizens too. Even so, any plans to go back home in the near future were halted with the ban. It's already difficult to travel outside of the country with a middle name like Mohamed-Omar-Osman. I did have plans to visit [Somalia] for the summer. It's not an urgent trip, but I've never been there before and now I think it will be a while before I do. It [feels] defeating — as a Black Muslim, a child of immigrants, and a woman — that my identity always seems to be up for question. Now, more than ever, it's become exhausting.

The faint sense of hope and faith I have is keeping me going. I stay positive by surrounding myself with people that look like me and are going through a similar experience. I think it's important for me to feel validated, because everything I do as a Black Muslim woman is questioned. And I don't want to be questioned all the time; sometimes I just want to be heard.

Monil Kothari, 28, New Jersey; E-commerce Business Analyst
Country of origin: India
I have immigrant friends and family who are here legally and who travel frequently for work. Many of them have already had issues with the original ban and it's prompted my extended family to take steps to ensure that we are prepared for any travel ban scenarios that could come up. My uncle, who has been here for over 15 years, and is still a green card holder, now carries copies of his green card on him, along with passport, and ID. As a family, we've received legal information regarding what options we have when [the] Customs and Border Protection stops [us]. This may all seem very basic, but as everyone knows, knowledge is power and knowing what options we have is half the battle.

At the end of the day, I realize, as a person of Indian descent, aka a "brown colored fella," I am always going to be subjected to extra scrutiny, no matter if I'm an American citizen or not. Unfortunately, unlike my skin tone, it's difficult for people to see that I'm American to the core. I'll always have that specter of racial profiling around me and frankly, it sucks.

As a first-generation child of immigrant parents, who came to America and built a successful business — a common story among immigrants — I am deeply saddened by the direction my America has taken. My only hope for the future is the incredible work that people are doing to combat this arbitrary and overtly racist travel ban; from the ACLU filing suits at every corner to immigration lawyers working pro bono with those affected by the ban and to activists bringing the spotlight to this issue. I'm cautiously optimistic that this travel ban will be short-lived and eventually relegated to a footmark in American history. Any other outcome would not be acceptable to me as a proud American.

While Trump's travel ban is being contested in state courts around the country, groups like CAIR and Muslim Advocates have pulled together resources to help Muslim-Americans understand their entrance rights. If you or someone you know might be affected by these policies, be sure to review your rights and, if possible, consult a lawyer.


Text Nadya Agrawal
Photography Martin Patrick via Flickr

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