I took this picture from inside the Newseum on our trip to the nation’s capital two weeks ago. We were there for our friend, Ed Moon’s, 80th birthday, but visiting Washington always includes civics and history lessons. I always feel a rush of patriotism whenever we visit and I see the classical architecture of the capital again. In 2016 we spent 10 days there just before the Trump takeover. We called that trip “The restore our faith in America tour” because we were alarmed at the Trump candidacy and hoped to be reassured that our country’s institutions were stable and functioning. Because of the election results our tour didn’t really end in 2016, but I have faith that Robert Mueller, my fellow Marine, will finish the restoration work when he completes his investigation of Trump/Russia. For now, it’s still unfinished business.
Nevertheless, it was reassuring to visit DC this time and be reminded that, at its core, Washington’s population is transient. Administrations come and go and so do their functionaries. They inhabit the place for a while and then move on, leaving behind a stable population that will feed, clean, shelter, and support the next wave of transients.
Last month, two years after taking office, Trump and his Republican allies had their first real test – the midterm elections – and rather than celebrate a strong economy, they settled on a singular strategy they thought would help them win – scare the bejeezus out of America with – the immigration problem. The invading hoards from Central America. The Caravan. Drug dealers. MS-13. Rapists. Terrorists. Disease carrying welfare leeches…foreigners. Scary folks rushing the border to take away what white folks have worked so hard to accumulate.
As the midterms approached, we were treated to a media blitz about the problem. Fox News breathlessly chronicled the slow, murderous procession approaching the border while we watched US Customs and Border Protection and the US military string razor wire along the border “fence.” It was an alarming and dramatic stunt to address a faux problem.
I wasn’t at the southern border, needless to say, but I’m alert to how immigration is affecting America and acutely aware of immigrant populations wherever I am. Here In Seattle we have a large mixed-Asian population. On the other side of the lake at Microsoft, it’s mostly Indian. In Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California it’s Hispanic. Minnesota has Somalis. Long Island has Russians. Houston, New Orleans, and Orange County have city-sized Vietnamese populations. Beverly Hills is loaded with Iranians. America is made up of immigrants. Some came long ago. Some came more recently. Together, they’ve created the fabric that makes America what it is.
In that spirit, here’s a list of some of the people I encountered in Washington – 2696 miles from the border in Tijuana, Mexico:
- Raga Raghavan – (Kerala, India) senior research scientist (30 years in America) whose son, Gautam, was a senior advisor and speech writer for President Obama and editor of Westwingers, an anthology of stories by Obama staffers currently a bestseller on Amazon.
- Salazar – (Bangladesh) Uber driver (42 years in America). Daughter is a lawyer. Up to date and well informed on US politics.
- Katya – (El Salvador) front desk manager at Marriott Suites in Bethesda (10 years in America)
- Jose – (El Salvador) bartender at Marriott Suites (15 years in America). Fabulous martinis.
- Miryam – (Columbia) dining room hostess at Marriott Suites (10 years in America). Frothy lattes in the morning.
- Fey (Ethiopia), Beronica (El Salvador), Weieny (Puerto Rico) – dining room servers in the Marriott Suites restaurant. Friendly, efficient, and welcoming.
- Salazar (Guatamala), Yusuf (Ethiopian), Eva (Venezuela) Washington DC Uber drivers. Courteous and professional.
- Unnamed housekeeping staff at Marriott Suites (El Salvador, Bolivia, Somalia, Columbia). Friendly, quick, unobtrusive, and accommodating.
- Christina (Serbia) lawyer who shared an Uber with us from Georgetown. In US on a work/study visa. Denied a visa extension though she had completed all the paperwork in a timely manner. When denied the visa she said “Fuck it. I did everything they asked. I loved being here on a work/study. I’m not going to fight it. I’m going to Florida and stay until I feel like leaving. Then I’ll go home to practice law.”
- Devann (Columbia) naturalized US citizen, daughter-in-law of Vorry Moon (retired Air Force Pilot) whose mother’s US citizenship paperwork was lost twice by USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) with resulting application denials.
- Candace (US) Vorry Moon’s wife, a Homeland Security immigration specialist, who advised Devann and her mother to contact their Senator and US Representative to solve the US citizenship denial problem. Nice woman.
Marilynn and I had conversations with all of these foreign-born immigrants during our stay in DC. All are hardworking LEGAL residents of the US and all of them (except Christina the Serbian lawyer) are proud to be in America where they have better lives than they had in their homelands.
I find it hard to understand the Republican hysteria over immigration except as a dog whistle to reinforce the “base” – that bigoted, xenophobic 30% that pushed Trump over the line in 2016.
I find it equally hard to understand how the descendant of an Ashkenazi Jew who escaped pogroms in Belarus, landed penniless in America but built a successful business to support his descendants could become a militantly alt-right anti-immigration nut case? Stephen Miller, the man with the overstuffed briefcase (below) is that man-child – son of immigrants.
Yes, Stephen Miller, the grandson of poor Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants who, in spite of their poverty, learned English, worked hard, and created wealth in America—”the classic immigration success story”–is now the shrill voice of right-wing anti-immigration zealots, who block (and slow meter) asylum seekers along America’s southern border, separating families, and establishing concentration camp-like facilities for those who cross over. It’s impossible to miss the irony in Stephen’s story.
Stephen is not unlike his boss, Donald Trump, whose grandfather Friedrich Drumpf emigrated from Kallstadt, Palatinate (then part of the Kingdom of Bavaria) in 1885 at age 16, became a U.S. citizen and set up the next generation to be successful, albeit crooked, real estate entrepreneurs.
Immigrants often bear the scars of the hard circumstances that drove them from their homes in search of better lives, but success in America is not a zero-sum game. It’s quite the opposite. My success is not at your expense. On the contrary, my success is likely to expand and create opportunities for you – new jobs, new horizons, and economic expansion. Wealth creates wealth—and Stephen Miller and Donald Trump have both been beneficiaries of their parents and grandparents’ success. So, what accounts for their mean-spirited, “I got mine pull up the ladder” selfishness?
Both men act in unhappy and emotionally stunted ways in spite of their unearned lifelong advantages. Both are thin-skinned and insecure. Trump may possess some kind of street smarts, but he’s dumb as a post when it comes to understanding what motivates people. Stephen was equally advantaged but was an outsider who envied others. Both lack empathy, that basic quality that would have prepared them to share what we as Americans have created for each other.
It’s clear to me that the current influx of immigrants – Syrian, Afghan, Iraqi, East Asian, Central American, and North African – have suffered hardships on long and arduous journeys to reach what Lincoln called ‘the last best hope of earth.” Immigration is not a partisan issue except for the cynical, avaricious, and self-involved. It is an issue we can come together to solve. Let’s do it.
Write your Congressman or Congresswoman. Do it now.