By Rana Abdelhamid, Amnesty International USA Board Member
Many — even the majority — of the Trump administration’s policies feel like a game of whack-a-mole, where every policy wages a fight against a different ethnic or social group. The Muslim ban, which prohibits nationals from seven countries from entering the U.S. (five of them Muslim-majority), is rooted in Trump’s inflammatory campaign trail rhetoric dehumanizing Muslims. The heartless family separation and detention policy is also rooted in demonizing language: punishing those who come to our southern border seeking protection and in many cases, ripping their children from their arms. These policies are part of a growing global movement targeting migrants, refugees, and minorities. This is why we need to work together, with a global perspective, and stand united of all backgrounds in the face of violent xenophobic policies. We must remember that our liberations are inextricably linked.
These recent policies — the Muslim ban, family separation, family detention — are all predicated on “othering”: the practice of denying the humanity of a group of people on the basis of their faith, the color of their skin, or where they were born. These prejudiced policies divide us and put more of us at risk to be discriminated against and more prone to violence and discrimination. The Muslim ban tells us that due to where someone was born or how they practice their faith, they are a “national security threat.” Family separation divides us, telling us that those who live in the US have the right to due process and other protections, but those coming here seeking protection do not.
The United States, throughout various periods in history, has consistently perpetuated xenophobic and discriminatory policies impacting people of color and minorities in horrifying ways. What has been most inspiring to me as a young activist and organizer in the human rights movement is the resilience, love, and persistence of marginalized groups throughout our history that allows for many of us to have the rights we have today. And it is imperative, now more than ever, that through our words and our actions, that we enforce the principle: We’re stronger when we stand together, united of all faiths and backgrounds, and we’re far weaker when we allow these policies to divide us or pit us against each other.
And this isn’t a new phenomenon for our communities to come together to organize. In California in the 1970s, Muslim-Arab-Yemeni farmworkers stood side-by-side with thousands of Latino farmworkers under the leadership of Cesar Chavez to demand basic human rights. In fact, the first life lost in this movement was that of a 24-year-old Yemeni migrant, Nagi Daifullah, whose linguistic capabilities allowed him to build a powerful coalition that moved the fight for farmworker’s rights forward in a remarkable way.
It is in our history to stand in solidarity as one community. This administration’s stance against other nationalities and against minority communities is not acceptable. It is not normal that a six-year-old had to call her aunt from a shelter, after being ripped from her parent’s arms,crying on the phone and asking her aunt to come find her. Nor is it normal that this administration has proposed to “solve” its manufactured humanitarian crisis by either mandatorily detaining asylum-seeking families or, reuniting separated families only to deport them without their asylum claims being heard in an immigration court. These violate our human rights obligations.
In addition to cross-ethnic solidarity, we need not forget how inextricably global this xenophobia is. I think back to the few months I spent working with UN Women in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, one of the largest of its kind. I met many young Syrian women there who had faced unimaginable violence in their pasts but remained committed to receiving their education, organizing, and moving forward. I think back to the lessons I learned from women I befriended and served with in a domestic violence shelter in Mexico, some of them migrants and many of them survivors of sexual violence. Their resilience and creativity around organizing and traditional healing fueled my work in the United States. Our vision must connect the domestic narrative to the global struggle for liberation. We should listen to, fund, and build a coalition with those beyond our nation’s borders.
Only when we confront these divisions and actively engage in opportunities for solidarity will we truly be able to remember our collective humanity. The existence of these divisions relies on us buying into this administration’s false narrative that those impacted by these policies are different from us. But they aren’t. This is exactly why we must urgently and constantly demand a rapid and global solution that centers the marginalized voices and communities that are bearing the brunt of this violence. Otherwise, our organizing dismisses the core foundation of the challenge. Standing against family detention and separation necessitates standing against the Muslim ban and the xenophobia facing refugees, migrants, and minorities across the globe, and vice versa. The policies of this administration make it all the more important that we stand united, of all nations and backgrounds, demanding human rights for all of us.