Who Is An American On 9/11?

The undocumented victims killed in the September 11th attacks were some of our own and will not be forgotten.

On September 11th, America was attacked, and 2,983 American’s died at the World Trade Center. The attackers had a plan. It wasn’t to engage Americans in a battle on American soil. The attacks, as terrible as they were, didn’t attempt to cause mass casualties across the United States. Instead, Al-Qaeda’s goal, as we now understand it, was to goad America into a long, expensive, deadly war on foreign soil. The goal was financial ruin. Osama bin Laden said as much. “We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy,” said bin Laden in a videotape released in October of 2004.

And now, with the benefit of hindsight, we know that the threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction was little more than a convenient fiction. But with our country attacked, and George Bush’s base calling for retribution, we went to war.

Now sixteen years and three presidents later, America is deep in its longest running conflict, with no end in sight.

Donald Trump ran as a candidate who promised to pull back American troops. In a March 2013 tweet, he said the U.S. “should leave Afghanistan immediately.” And he went on: “No more wasted lives,” Trump tweeted. “If we have to go back in, we go in hard & quick. Rebuild the US first.” Now he seems to have changed his position.

So, on the 16th anniversary of September 11th, as we memorialize the 2,983 individuals who died in those attacks, it’s worth asking just who were they, and would they today be treated with the same honor and respect they did then?

We now know more than 100 of those who perished were undocumented. People of varying professions ― killed by terrorists at the World Trade Center but without the papers to be considered an ‘American’ by today’s rapidly narrowing standards.

Joel Magallán, a former Jesuit brother from Mexico who was the executive director of the immigrant community group Asociación Tepeyac 16 years ago, led a group of volunteers to find and honor the names of these invisible Americans. His group answered phones and accompanied the relatives on painful pilgrimages to city hospitals and morgues, “It was an intense job, there was no time even to cry,” said Magallán. Another 372 foreign nationals ― just over 12 percent of the total number of deaths ― perished in the attacks. So, around those bronze parapets that wrap the streaming water of the memorial pools, 472 of those names were either undocumented or citizens of other countries. In Donald Trump’s America, would they be honored, remembered, or memorialized?

As another September 11th anniversary arrives, and then recedes, this year is a good opportunity for Americans to take a deep look at the faces, voices, and cultures that make up the country that we have for so long called a melting pot. To think about the diversity of our collective cities and towns ― and do our part to support the essence of what has made this nation great.

On September 11th, America was attacked, and 2,983 American’s died at the World Trade Center. They may not have been born here or had a passport or resident status, but they died as part of the mosaic of America ― and they’re honored as such.

America is a nation of immigrants, and even as we remember and memorialize those that we have lost, 9/11 can serve to remind us of the truly diverse and multicultural nature of what we’re fighting to protect.