Trump is not holding a ban against Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Azerbaijan where Trump has done business or pursued deals. Many democrats are presuming this is an outright Muslim ban, and are vigorously protesting against it.
When we examine the history of our country, a ban against an ethnic group is not a novel idea. AAPI immigration to the United States began in the mid-1800s. The annexation of California in 1846 by the United States opened the door to Asian laborers, with a significant wave of Chinese immigration during the California Gold Rush from 1848 to 1855. A series of restrictive laws were enacted which limited the life of Asians within the United States. In 1870, Congress passed a law that made Asian immigrants the only racial group barred from naturalization to United States citizenship.
There was Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which banned the Chinese from entering into the United States. In 1882, this Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Chester A. Arthur. It was a 10-year moratorium on Chinese labor immigration and it became the first time that the U.S. government prevented an ethnic group from entering into the U.S. soil. The 1917 Immigration Act further limited Asian immigration, banning immigration from all countries in Asia.
The 1882 exclusion act not only prevented Chinese immigration, it placed new bands against the Chinese who already lived in the U.S. as they had to obtain certifications to re-enter the U.S. if they ever left. This Act also denied citizenship to American-born children of Chinese immigrants even though the 14th Amendment of 1870 granted citizenship to all children born in the United States. This was accomplished by Congress refusing the State and Federal courts the right to grant citizenship to Chinese resident aliens. This meant that the courts could still deport them at anytime breaking up families and communities. When the exclusion Act expired in 1892, Congress extended it for another 10 years through the Geary Act. This was made permanent in 1902 which required each Chinese resident to register and obtain a certificate of residence. Without a certificate, they faced deportation.
This Geary Act regulated Chinese immigration until the 1920s. Chinese immigrants who were found without these certificates faced up to one year of hard labor followed by deportation. It was not until 1943 that Congress repealed the exclusion acts, leaving a yearly limit of 105 Chinese and gave foreign-born Chinese the right to seek naturalization. It was not until 1943 that Chinese were allowed to become U.S. citizens and were allowed to vote.
In addition, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that prescribed certain areas in the United States as military zones. This led to the transportation of Japanese Americans to internment camps, far from their homes on the Pacific coast. The conditions of these camps were akin to camps for migrant workers. Some camps were built in former livestock pens with residual manure on the grounds. The walls of the buildings were often made of tar paper, which provided little protection from the elements making the winters extremely cold and the summers far too hot where the people lived. Armed soldiers guarded the camps, with barbed wire fences surrounding the compounds. Japanese Americans were interned, while Italian Americans and German Americans were not placed in camps during the war. The United States was officially in war against these three countries, but only the Japanese Americans were interned.
These discriminatory laws put into place by Congress created hardships, turmoil, family breakups and disenfranchisement. Asian Americans were commonly viewed as foreigners and not “real” Americans. They were viewed as the other. A form of this explicit racism is now happening yet again in our government under President Trump. The Muslim ban is projected to span for 90 days, but if the American people do not rise up and revolt it may become extended, or worse, made permanent.
The first week of Trump’s presidency has surpassed what progressives and democrats had prayed to be empty promises and frivolous entertainment. The statements made regarding the “ban of Muslims” has materialized in the most spiteful of ways. The racism that has been present in America’s history was hushed and pushed away in recent years. But now, it has bubbled to the surface, and has made itself the central character in the social and political landscape of this country. It is not just the people around us that see what is happening and are affected, the world is watching, and thereby also influenced. This week our 45th president has tragically enforced executive orders which brings fear, ugliness, and explicit ignorance that we thought were left behind, back into the present.
We must remember our past so that we do not repeat it. When Europeans immigrants first came to the U.S. they saw the Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty has for decades represented American immigration and the poem inscribed on the pedestal of the statue reads: “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Perhaps this founding statement that brought the first immigrants together on the same land, is the same testimony that will teach us how to treat our current immigrants. Muslims, immigrants, and refugees alike have all come to this country for the same reasons that our ancestors came for – hope. We need to become the beacon of light for those in search of that very thing, and accept the new life we encounter with open arms.
Grace Ji-Sun Kim is an Associate Professor of Theology at Earlham School of Religion. She is the author of Embracing the Other;Making Peace with the Earth;Here I Am;Christian Doctrines for Global Gender Justiceco-edited with Jenny Daggers;Theological Reflections on “Gangnam Style”co-written with Joseph Cheah;Reimagining with Christian Doctrinesco-edited with Jenny Daggers;Contemplations from the Heart;Colonialism, Han and the Transformative Spirit;The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other; and The Grace of Sophia. She is a co-editor with Dr. Joseph Cheah for the Palgrave Macmillan Book Series, “Asian Christianity in Diaspora”.