Cyrus Habib is Washington state’s lieutenant governor.
President Trump’s recent executive order denying entry to refugees as well as immigrants and visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries has disrupted the lives of thousands of people here and abroad. I can relate to what those families are going through. Two decades ago, my family would have been one of them.
My father came to the United States from Iran on a student visa in 1970 to attend the University of Washington. He obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees there, became a civil engineer and worked for Boeing until cancer claimed his life last year. He was a green-card holder until he became a citizen in the mid-’90s. My mother, also from Iran, came to the United States in 1980 on a visa, earning her law degree and becoming a citizen later that decade. Like millions of other Middle Easterners, they were drawn here by our country’s promise of equal opportunity for those who work hard and play by the rules.
Neither of my parents would have been able to immigrate to the United States under Trump’s executive order. Nor would my Iranian grandmother have been able to visit us here in 1987, when I was receiving treatment for the cancer that would soon after take my eyesight.
The contributions my father made to our country’s leading aerospace manufacturer, the work my mother performs daily to administer justice as a Superior Court judge in King County, Wash., and the opportunity I had to see my grandmother’s face before becoming blind — these are all part of my family’s story. Our story, along with those of countless other immigrants and refugees, is an essential part of what truly makes America great, then and now.
After I lost my eyesight, my parents, in American fashion, pledged never to let my disability limit my dreams. Their confidence and support allowed me to go from Braille to Yale, and eventually to my current job as Washington state’s lieutenant governor. It’s a tale that can only be told in this country, where hard-working and brave people of every religion, race and national origin come to contribute and flourish. Today, millions of immigrants from majority-Muslim countries do just that. They are teachers and truckers, soldiers and surgeons, entrepreneurs and executives. Of the fatal terrorist attacks committed in the United States since 9/11, not a single one was committed by immigrants from the seven countries singled out by Trump’s executive order. And yet, students, researchers, artists and scientists from these countries are being treated differently than their peers from non-majority-Muslim countries. These individuals and families, unlike mine, would now be denied the opportunity to bring their talent and tenacity to this country, or, once here, would be cut off from their relatives overseas.
On Friday, a federal judge halted the executive order after our state attorney general demonstrated that it presented a unique threat to the state’s economy and institutions — drawing on testimony from state universities and Washington-headquartered companies.
I’m proud of Attorney General Bob Ferguson for bringing this lawsuit and winning the first round of the legal battle. By taking the Trump administration to court, we in Washington state are leading the country away from actions that would irreparably damage America’s economy and reputation as a bastion of inclusion. I applaud the 15 states that have signed on to our lawsuit in advance of Tuesday’s appellate hearing, and I urge other state attorneys general to join us in challenging this un-American executive order.
I also ask members of Congress, each of whom represents many immigrants, to take immediate action to correct this wrong. They should demonstrate a fraction of the courage it takes for a Syrian refugee to escape their war-torn homeland, and act to reverse this brazen act of presidential overreach. In so doing, they will allow stories like mine to unfold for other deserving families. And they will benefit our state and our nation by demonstrating that the United States remains not only the land of the free, but also the home of the brave.
Ultimately, this is bigger than courts or Congress. This moment calls for a collective commitment to the importance of inclusion. That’s a lesson I learned early on as a three-time cancer-surviving, fully blind Iranian American from a mixed-religion, immigrant family. And it’s a lesson President Trump must learn if he wants to understand what truly makes America great.
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