Thirty years ago, my father brought my grandparents here from India, to live out their lives as a family with the son they had sent off to the United States years earlier, and with us — the grandchildren who had been born here.
We were privileged to grow up with our grandparents coming to dinner, attending awards ceremonies and clapping proudly at graduations.
The Trump administration’s Muslim ban has already barred family reunification for the citizens of seven countries. A new rule set to go into effect Feb. 21 bans immigration from four additional countries. These bans mean saying no to reunifying families, no to parents, no to grandparents, no even to spouses and children.
The discriminatory underpinnings of the Trump administration’s immigration policy are clearly evident in its two immigration bans. This month’s expanded travel ban, like the one before it, targets families from predominantly Muslim countries. It will separate families from Myanmar, Nigeria, Eritrea and Kyrgyzstan, as well as denying diversity visas to people from Sudan and Tanzania.
Minnesota is home to more than 10,000 primarily Karen and Karenni refugees from Myanmar. They came here after spending decades in refugee camps in Thailand. Now they are valued neighbors, friends and co-workers. The latest ban prevents them from reuniting with mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers still stranded in refugee camps.
Minnesota is also home to more than 5,000 Nigerian immigrants and at least 2,000 Eritreans, also now separated from family members by the ban, along with 50,000 Somali Minnesotans already separated from family by the first Muslim ban. The effect of these bans on Minnesota families and communities has been, and will continue to be, profound as long as they remain in place.
These bans prevent spouses from living in the same country and from starting families. They deprive children of the love of their grandparents. This policy takes away the normal family interaction that you and I take for granted every day.
Three years ago, the first Muslim ban stranded a 3-year-old child thousands of miles away from her mother and sisters, preventing her from rejoining them in Minnesota. The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota and a host of allies fought to reunite that family, and won.
Other families were not so fortunate. The 2017 Muslim ban keeps at least 3,882 people separated from their spouses, and 3,460 parents separated from their U.S. citizen sons and daughters.
The latest ban is one more step in the Trump administration’s efforts to prevent all refugees and asylum-seekers from access to the United States, and to build a wall against legal immigration for people of color, women, Muslims and the working class. This ban will have a profound impact on LGBTQ refugees who face widespread persecution, as well as on religious and ethnic minorities.
Tellingly, the ban comes only eight days after the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands concluded that Myanmar had committed genocidal repression of Rohingya people.
This policy is what results when unfounded fear is treated as reasonable. This policy is what results when longstanding xenophobia is considered a legitimate basis for policy. This policy is what results when an administration implements so many unjust and inhumane policies that our communities start to become numb, rather than fighting back.
This policy does not live up to the promise of what the U.S. can be — a place that welcomes immigrant and refugee families, rather than separating them.
Like most people I know, like most people in this country, I deeply value family ties. Having my grandparents in my life meant the world to me. That’s why I will fight in every way possible to end these bans and end the separation of families.
All families are welcome here, in Minnesota and in the United States.
Veena Iyer is executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota.