My Muslim Family Left Our Homeland For The U.S. To Escape Deportations — Now What?

Photo: Courtesy of Huda Al-Marashi.
Huda Al-Marashi is an Iraqi-American writer living in Monterey, CA. The views expressed here are her own.

On election night, my phone lit up with texts from my Iraqi-American family.

“I keep thinking about our parents immigrating here, and all their dreams for their life,” one of my cousins wrote. A few minutes later, another messaged, “Our family moved to escape a dictator to live under one in the U.S.?”

Although my cousins and I had been born in America, we’d heard the stories of how the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, handled Iraqis with ties — no matter how distant — to his enemies. During the Iran-Iraq war, anyone with Iranian origins, family in Iran, or simply a Persian-sounding last name, could be rounded up in the middle of the night and deported to the Iranian border. Afraid, many of our family members left Iraq — never thinking that the specter of bans and deportations would follow us here.

In many ways, Donald Trump’s victory feels like a betrayal of the unwritten story that has brought immigrants to America’s shores since our nation’s founding. America has always prided itself on being a land of opportunity. You come, you work hard, and this country belongs to you as much as it does to anyone. As the child of immigrants, I did not take this, or my American passport, for granted.

It troubles me to see how Trump’s rhetoric towards Muslims and other groups has put this story that is so critical to our identity as Americans in jeopardy. “What if he wins?” my 11-year-old daughter repeatedly asked during the campaign season. “Will we have to move?” My 5-year-old son put together a picture book with only two words in it, penned by his own hand: “Stop Trump.” And, on the night of the election, my 14-year-old son, staying up late to watch his country elect a new president for the first time, looked at me and asked, “So what’s going to happen to us now?”

I hope our new president and his administration remember that Muslims, like so many other underrepresented groups, are a vital part of America, too.

I’ve consistently reassured my children of America’s checks and balances, but it is hard to feel certain of our rights as American citizens when Trump surrogate Carl Higbie recently appeared on Fox News and brought up the Japanese internment camps, not as a travesty that must never again be repeated, but as an argument for a nationwide registry for Muslims. (During World War II, roughly 127,000 Japanese-Americans were forcibly "relocated" to internment camps, mostly on the West Coast.)

In a recent interview with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, Higbie, a former Navy SEAL, said, "We've done it based on race, we've done it based on religion, we've done it based on region. We've done it with Iran back — back a while ago. We did it during World War II with [the] Japanese."

When Kelly pushed back, he said, “I’m just saying there’s precedent for it.”

It’s a mind-boggling claim. There’s precedent for a lot of things there shouldn't be. There is a precedent for war and the use of nuclear weapons, for police brutality, for school shootings, and yes, there have been many precedents for scapegoating people throughout history. We are supposed to learn from such tragedies. We’re supposed to vow to never let them happen again.

Higbie’s words are another blow in an already traumatic year for Muslim-Americans. Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric sparked a terrifying spate of hate crimes. We heard of Khalid Jabara, a Christian Arab, murdered by his neighbor in Oklahoma, this past August. This, after the killer had already run over Jabara's mother earlier that year. We got word of a religious leader, Alauddin Akonjee, and his assistant being fatally shot coming out of their mosque in Queens. Closer to home, my friends had notes left on their windshields telling them to go back home, slurs slung at them about how Trump’s election would "take care of them."

The week after the election brought so many more stories like these — hijabs yanked at in parking lots, graffiti popping up on college campuses and mosques, and a variety of hate speech carrying a singular message: Muslims are no longer welcome here.

I find scenarios I once considered implausible constraining my plans for the future. I wonder if we should renovate our house, but then I find myself thinking what a waste it would be if we are sent off to camps and have to sell it. I think of the Islamic art installation we bought to put outside by the front door, and then wonder if it will attract vandals. I tell my brother I’m not sure if we should still come visit him abroad next summer. “What if we’re not able to get back into the country?” I ask. He jokes that my husband is far too indispensable at his job, that his hospital would hire lawyers to rescue us.

I cling to this reminder that we are more than just Muslims here — that in spite of this election, we are who we've always been in this country: friends, coworkers, and members of the community. I tell myself that there are people who need us, who will stick up for our right to be here, because I want to feel safe again. And this is what I find particularly sad about all of this Islamophobic madness. I know so many Americans wanted this election to make them feel safe again even more than they wanted some vague promise of greatness. I hear the fear thumping behind all the hate tweets I get after I write a piece. “Since when are Muslims the victims?” or “So stop fuckin’ killing us.”

Even if physical internment camps do not exist yet, Muslims have already been interned in so many American minds. We are no longer part of the “us,” the America that Higbie, the Trump supporter, was thinking of when he went on to say, “Look, the president needs to protect America first.”

I hope our new president and his administration remember that Muslims, like so many other underrepresented groups, are a vital part of America, too. Over the next four years, it is all our jobs to make the donations, calls, and votes that will remind him of that. Together, we can show our children that our actions can be the answer to the question, "What's going to happen to us now?"
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