Donald Trump doesn’t believe in the American dream. Nor does Trump understand the American story. For if he did, he wouldn’t be trying to destroy both by radically rewriting our immigration laws to end family unification, which he despicably refers to as “chain migration.”
I have seen what Trump calls “chain migration” up close and personal. It is my family’s story.
The tale of my Palestinian father, Abdul Musa Obeidallah, who emigrated to the United States in 1957, is neither unique nor extraordinary. It is the typical story of an immigrant who came to this country in search of a better life. What is special in all of this is a place called the United States of America. A nation that is truly exceptional because as George Washington put it, the United States should be “open to receive not only the opulent and respected stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions.”
My father, who passed away 20 years ago next month, was born in the 1930s in what was then called Palestine—Israel didn’t exist as modern state until 1948. After the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, he made his way to Jordan. He was in his late twenties. He had not graduated high school, he spoke basic English with an Arabic accent and his only skill was cooking.
Somehow he was able to get a job as a cook at the United States Embassy in Amman, Jordan. Clearly my father seeking to work in the U.S. Embassy was not by happenstance. While my father lacked a formal education, he understood that America offered him opportunities and a far better life than he could ever imagine in either Jordan or the West Bank. My father was truly one of the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
So, with the help of U.S. diplomats he had become friends with at the embassy, he emigrated to America in 1957. He was the first in his family to visit the United States, let alone live here.
And after growing accustomed to northern New Jersey where he lived and worked as a cook, he did what countless immigrants before him and after did: He sought to bring over his family. He didn’t have children or a wife then. (He would meet my Sicilian mother in New Jersey years later.)
But he first was able to sponsor one of his brothers. Later another brother also came over.
Was my father’s motivation in doing this, as Trump and his kind would have you believe, a plot to help “truly evil” people infiltrate the United States? No. It was to unite him with his family—after all my father was alone in this new world. And my father wanted to share with his siblings the same shot at a better life he felt so fortunate to be given in a county that at its essence promised equality for all.
Now 60 years later, there are countless Obeidallahs in the United States in New Jersey, New York, Illinois, and even in Tennessee. How did it work for these descendants of immigrants? Well just about every single Obeidallah born in the United States has a college degree, with some earning post graduate degrees. (The percentage of people with a four-year college degree in my family far exceeds the national average of about 30 percent—that is all because of the immigrant work ethic.)
Some Obeidallahs are now pharmacists, while other are teachers and engineers. Still others are doctors, lawyers, and small business owners. One is even a columnist for The Daily Beast.
If Trump had his way none of them would be here. In fact, as has been documented, if not for our immigration laws that made family unification easier, it’s very possible that neither Trump nor others in his administration would be here today.
Let’s be blunt: Trump’s use of the term “chain migration” is just one more idea he has embraced from white supremacists. As one “alt-right” activist put it, “I remember days when chain migration was niche topic” only discussed by the leading white supremacists like Peter Brimelow and Jared Taylor. This self-described alt-right “evangelist” added, “Trump isn’t perfect but be thankful!”
The genesis of the idea of ending “chain migration” truly comes from the white nationalists we saw in the streets of Charlottesville who chanted “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.” These are the same white supremacists who have long advocated ending immigrating from “shithole” countries, as Trump dubbed them, and allowing more from white, European countries—or “Norway,” as Trump put it in shorthand. And these are the very same people Trump defended as “very fine people.”
Trump tries to camouflage his bigotry-based policy by saying we must end family unification laws because terrorists will use it to enter America. Trump then points to one case for evidence, that of the 27-year-old man in a New York City subway with a bomb in December that resulted in three minor injuries. That man did in fact enter the country in 2011 because he was sponsored by a relative.
But there’s no good faith public policy reason to end family unification because one or two bad people came through that system when you weigh it against the millions who contributed to making this nation what it is today. Plus Trump would be far more credible if he had advocated sweeping changes to our laws after the string of white supremacist terror attacks we have seen spike in 2017 under his watch as recently documented by the Anti-Defamation League. But he was silent.
This is truly not a battle with Trump over a policy—it’s a fight over the American story. Will we let Trump and his extreme voices who oppose immigration of those who don’t look like they come from Norway define our nation going forward? Or will we stand up for what makes America exceptional? The choice is ours.