They say immigrants fall in love with America because of opportunity. I fell in love with it because of accessibility.
As a young father, moving to America wasn’t something I was considering when I first visited Chicago. In Pakistan, I had a fancier car, a nicer home, and a solid support network of extended family and friends. My wife and I were happy, and looked forward to a good future for our children.
But walking around Chicago, I kept noticing that the sidewalks would sometimes become small, smoothly paved ramps.
I couldn’t understand why, until I asked one of my friends who had been living in the city for a few years. It’s to give access to those in a wheelchair, he explained. It’s so they can cross streets and get up on sidewalks easily.
I was stunned.
This was something I would never have thought of. But in that moment, it encapsulated everything America stands for to me: Access.
That a nation would care enough to build a way for some of its most vulnerable citizens to have access to basic mobility reflected something far greater than just being the proverbial “land of opportunity” and educational and employment opportunities.
It meant that its promise to citizens of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, the three unalienable rights outlined in its Declaration of Independence, truly extended to all Americans.
I was well aware that historically, this right was not always a given. Slavery, sexism, and supremacist beliefs about other races and ethnic groups blocked the promise. Yet, Americans who believed in this idea of access and equality fought for it. And they won.
This is what the One America Registry is all about.
It is a response to President Donald Trump’s threat to establish a registry of all American Muslims.
President Trump’s proposed Muslim registry targets all American Muslims. It is similar to one that was created for Japanese-Americans during WWII.
Seventy-four years ago today, an Executive Order was passed which made Japanese-Americans enemies of the state. Already registered, they were shipped off to internment camps. They lost their livelihoods, their properties and in a number of cases, their lives. The registry stripped these Americans of their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It was unconstitutional and unjust.
This is something our nation acknowledged in 1988 under another Republican President, Ronald Reagan. He signed the Civil Liberties Act to compensate more than 100,000 Americans of Japanese descent who were incarcerated in the internment camps. The legislation offered a formal apology and financial compensation to each surviving victim.
Such is the promise and beauty of America. Access and equality are an ideal we continually strive for. And even as we struggle, there is always hope that we will win that coveted access to our Declaration’s promise.
American Muslims are as concerned about the security of our nation as our neighbors. However, moves like Trump’s recent “Muslim ban” do not keep us safe. Such policies pave the way to a legal regime that harms our safety, interests and stature globally, and undermines our values domestically.
If the Muslim Ban was illogical, a Muslim registry would be outright unconstitutional, and un-American.
American Muslims are deeply grateful for the support from our neighbors against the Muslim ban, as well as the many activists, lawyers, and leaders, both Democratic and Republican, who have spoken out.
Now we are asking everyone to join the One America Registry and our 10-Minutes-a-Day campaign to uphold American values. Once you register, you will receive information about how to use your ten minutes for an action item. Our first request is that you call your representative this week and demand that they preempt the threat of a Muslim registry.
Please ask your Congressperson to stand up for American values by prohibiting the creation of any registry that classifies people on the basis of religion, race, or national origin.
I never thought that decades after my first trip to America, now as an American grandfather of American-born Muslim children, I would be fighting for their continued access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But as I learned on the sidewalk that day so many years ago, America is about access and equality for all. It is my duty as their grandfather and as a fellow citizen, to ensure that it stays that way for every single American.