The new administration’s Executive Order imposing a ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority Middle Eastern countries has resulted in international protests at home and abroad. The ban already has torn families apart, and sowed fear into many local residents, who wonder if they may be at risk in their adopted homeland. In many cases, that homeland was adopted two or three generations ago, by grandparents and even great-grandparents who made a new life for themselves, and future generations, in a welcoming country. That’s been the hallmark of the United States for decades, a hallmark that today is tarnished by the actions of the new president.
Fairfax County is committed to respecting all residents and celebrating diversity. My colleague, Board Chairman Sharon Bulova, reaffirmed that commitment in a statement on November 17, 2016, shortly after the results of the presidential election were affirmed. She said “our diversity makes our community strong and vibrant, and I am proud of what every resident has to offer.” I share Chairman Bulova’s pride, and hope, in the future of our community.
So many of our residents worked hard to succeed in business, public service, medicine, education, as their chosen fields. I think of Andy Shallal, an Iraqi-American who created the very popular, and socially conscious, Busboys and Poets restaurants. I think of dear friends who escaped as refugees from Iran, both respected teachers, who ran a small printing business here when their teaching credentials did not transfer. I think of a wonderful Syrian-American woman whose grandparents, who moved to this country in 1912, would be proud of her human rights advocacy. I think of an elegant friend from Somalia, who grew up in a diplomatic family, lost family members in the Somali civil war, and couldn’t go home again. As a refugee, she helped many other refugees discover their own resilience after 9/11. I think of a celebrated cardiologist from Libya, who saves lives daily on the operating table here. And I think of many Sudanese-Americans who are more recent immigrants, and who are working hard to create civic pride in their new country, while helping their children maintain a cultural and religious heritage.
These are our neighbors and friends, and there are thousands more who understand, and treasure, the freedoms that are the bedrock of our democracy and nation. Of course, our freedoms need to be protected and defended, but there is no religious or cultural test, nor should there be, to visit the United States, to get work permits, or to become a citizen. Our government has made tragic errors in the past – the refusal to allow the German liner St. Louis to dock in the United States with 900 Jewish refugees in 1939, and the internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry in 1942, are two well-known blunders. One would hope those mistaken policies would have been removed from the national dialogue decades ago.
This isn’t happening somewhere else. It’s happening right here, and it’s disgraceful. Presidential senior counselor Steve Bannon told the media to “shut up and listen.” The community is listening, Mr. Bannon, but we’re not shutting up!
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.