The Time My Heart Stood Still

I was a little over 11 years old when i found myself alongside my two sisters in the parking lot of a busy gas station in Pico Rivera, staring at a dark blue sky. Were we awake or dreaming? As the three of us emerged from a large white van which had driven us countless miles from the US/Mexico border, we gazed upon a brightly lit billboard in front of us. It was a giant canvas full of colors, an image I can’t remember, with several words written on it in English. I couldn’t understand what the sign said, but I didn’t care. We were safe, together, and alive.

I was a Salvadoran refugee, a child of war, or better said, a vestige of a child whose days and nights had been filled by images and sounds of a civil war tearing his country apart for nearly a decade. I was one of more than a million men, women, and children who fled El Salvador seeking hope and a future, somewhere, anywhere. And here I was, months after I first left my hometown of San Marcos, away from my loved ones but also far away from the death squads, soldiers, and guerrillas battling for power, dogma, and territory in my tiny, bruised nation. In spite of my battered origins, this country opened its wide, generous arms and quietly, gently, promised me a place in its bosom.

It is now January, 2017. An avalanche of thoughts and feelings of when I first arrived to the US came back to me this weekend as I tried to understand the human drama — a carnage that only a tyrant’s cruelty is able to effect— unfolding at the hundreds of airports and homes throughout the country, as immigrants from mostly Middle East countries were stopped cold from reuniting with their loved ones, even though some of them were Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) or refugees who had been vetted for years before given their visa to enter the US.

Late last week, President Donald Trump recklessly announced a new Executive Order halting travel and entry to the U.S. of refugees and immigrants from at least seven Muslim-majority countries. The Muslim Ban took effect immediately which meant countless number of immigrants , refugees , and LPRs, were caught in a maelstrom that had but one purpose alone, to create chaos, confusion, and pain.

By issuing an ill-advised, xenophobic, and probably unconstitutional Executive Order, President Trump is delivering on his campaign promises to a narrow sector of the population salivating for “change”. But whatever the intent, President Trump has unleashed hell on millions of families whose only “offense” is to be an immigrant from a certain area of the world and belonging to a certain religious group.

The Trump Administration calls it “extreme vetting” but every refugee and immigration expert knows the vetting process to accept refugees from anywhere in the world is already a tough, thorough, and long process that sometimes takes years. The same can be said of the process to issue a green card to Legal Permanent Residents. How much more “extreme” does the Trump Administration wants the vetting to be? Condemning refugees to further harm, even death, by returning them to their country of origin is not vetting, it is cruel, stupid, and un-American.

The Muslim Ban is utterly repulsive but what’s at stake is not only the lives of many refugees and migrants who will be “temporarily” denied entry into the United States. The stakes are also dangerously high for all Americans. Just 12 days into the new Administration, President Trump has callously struck at the heart of our nation’s most cherished values and he doesn’t seem to acknowledge or care what all the fuss is about. These unilateral actions should worry all of us and we should work hard to stop them.

Americans can understand protecting the homeland is paramount for an Administration, regardless of party affiliation. But issuing a series of EOs that have not been properly vetted, fail to address the issues and instead give way to fringe demagoguery, and are recklessly implemented without regards to human casualty, is beyond the pale and does little to protect Americans. On the contrary, as many have suggested during the past few days, President Trump has induced a self-inflicting wound on the values, traditions, and standing of the United States in the world.

I shudder to think what might have become of me and my family if good, compassionate people in the United States had not protected refugees from Central America and advocated for the end of US involvement in that conflict in the early 80s. My heart sunk this weekend witnessing how little President Trump has learned from history and how flawed and wretched his first few days of governing have turned out to be.

Reasonable people can disagree on whether a wall on the border, an import tax on a certain country, or a friendly relationship with another dictator is in the best interest of the United States. What I hope we can all agree on is that America is a richly-diverse country and Muslims, immigrants, and refugees are part of the social fabric that makes our nation one of the strongest in the world. I also pray we all agree that the ideals of liberty and justice enshrined in our Constitution and the Statue of Liberty are all-inclusive regardless of a person’s ethnic origin, religion, or political ideology. No one, absolutely no one, and certainly not President Donald Trump, can trample over those ideals. We should not allow it.

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