Policies Targeting Refugees are Un-American

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Try to envision the world of modern art if Piet Mondrian, the Dutch painter and WWII refugee, had been denied entry to New York City in 1940, or if Marc Chagall, the Jewish-Russian painter, had been unable to escape the clutches of Bolshevism and find asylum in the U.S.

What would have happened to Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, if her family had not fled to America from Czechoslovakia in 1948? Or to philosopher Hannah Arendt, who was born in Germany in 1933 and fled Nazi persecution to become a U.S. citizen in 1950?

How different would the field of anthropology be if Claude Levi-Strauss, the French-Jewish ethnologist, had been turned away from America after he was stripped of his citizenship under the Vichy anti-Semitic laws?

What if Vladimir Nabokov had been killed in the Russian civil war rather than emigrating to safety in America?

What would have been the fate of Albert Einstein if Princeton University had not welcomed him in 1933, helping the Nobel-winning physicist to survive Nazi persecution?

As these stories of courage and resilience demonstrate, the American commitment to generosity, tolerance, openness, and diversity has paved the way for groundbreaking achievements in the arts and sciences. It can be argued that the spirited inventiveness of the refugee’s journey has been our nation’s most noble legacy. It’s what makes our country universally admirable. As Robert Kennedy once said, “America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity – the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom has inspired.”

How far are we willing to go to protect this heritage? How free are we to be religious in the most authentic sense of the word?

Of course, these figures were all white and from nations with a Judeo-Christian culture. Should that matter? If it doesn’t, what do we make of the president’s comment that we need more immigrants from Norway? What should we make of his remark: “I hate taking refugees? I guarantee you they are bad. That is why they are in prison right now. They are not going to be wonderful people who go on to work for the local milk people.” And what about his comment during the 2016 debates when he said, “all Syrian refugees are one great Trojan horse?” 

Considering the president’s blatant rhetoric, one is apt to wonder if the anti-refugee policies arising from the White House are really directed against refugees in general or simply target persons of color who hail from predominantly Muslim countries. Soon enough the Supreme Court will be wondering as well. 


George Cassidy Payne is a freelance writer and adjunct professor of philosophy. His blogs, essays, and letters have been published in a variety of outlets including the USA Today, the Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, Buffalo News,  Albany Times Union, Syracuse Post-Standard, Buffalo ArtVoice, Rochester CITY Newspaper, the Minority Reporter, Our Voice Magazine, CityWatch LA, and more. He lives and works in Rochester, NY.

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