History has a funny way of daring us to forget its greatest lessons. If we pause to listen to the rhythm, we can hear clearly the repeating beat. President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order, in the name of “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States” was history’s drum beat thundering to us all.
The tune rung of Japanese internment, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, the Patriot Act and every other beat determined to tear us away from our founding ideals.
Absent engagement and civil resistance, we would see a gruesome symphony start to play through the halls of our democracy. Within 12 hours of the executive order banning travel for people from from seven majority-Muslim nations, I was inundated with texts from people who knew concerned family members and were waiting at airports without any idea if their relatives were coming out.
Along with a swarm of attorneys across the nation, I helped find people representation. While on my way to Miami International Airport on Sunday morning, prepared to assist, I heard about Maysam Sodagari, a young Iranian man who was on a gay cruise and, with immigration attorney Saman Movassaghi and OutMiami’s Director Jaime Bayo, sought his release.
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Sodagari holds a green card. Acquiring one is a multi-year process of extreme vetting. Yet he had been taken in for a secondary inspection at the Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. Sodagari was released, but without individualized suspicion he should not have been detained at all. His crime was being born in Iran. Sodagari’s fear that day is the same fear of millions within our borders, ranging from undocumented children who currently have the protection of the law under DACA to U.S. citizens from majority-Muslim nations.
As we enter Black History Month, we celebrate those who did the right thing even when it was against the law and we reflect on the impact of our current movements. We read from the teaching of leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who told us that, “The arc of the moral universe is long but bends toward justice.” This arc, however, cannot bend itself. History will judge us harshly if we do grab and bend that arc toward justice ourselves.
Each of us has a role to play. Each of us has a unique talent we can leverage to ensure that policies are moral and just. What happens to one of us, happens to all of us. Right now, about 50 percent of people support a Muslim ban. But popular opinion is not a sound basis for policy. Recently, a travel ban on those seven countries strikes at the worst of our shared values. In the current climate, the LGBTQ community, women, African Americans, Muslims, Latinos and, broadly, immigrants will likely be the target of a fear-filled policy that challenges the American values of equality and fairness.
Our history is filled with government by fear, and we must ensure that our future is not darkened by this cloud. Policies like Trump’s executive order have failed the test of history. We must remember that if the laws are unjust, then it’s up to us to change them.
The reaction to this travel ban proved that many in the public square were actively listening to history’s repeated beat. In the past week, I’ve seen Americans who have lived in the country for generations come out in support of immigrants to whom they have no connection. I have seen attorneys leap into action to preserve the fundamentals of our Constitution. I have watched local community leaders reach out to other communities in solidarity, often for the first time. It is true when they say that every crisis brings an opportunity if we just look for it. In the end, President Trump has united the country, but perhaps not in the way he had intended.
There are three branches of government and we must engage all three: Reach out to legislators and propose better laws; use the courts as the check and balance on the other two branches when it is required; engageand support good executive branch efforts and resisting poorly thought out policy because, yes, resistance is a form of engagement.
Khurrum Wahid is a criminal defense attorney and national chairperson for Emerge USA.