Guest column: the dangers posed by the new administration’s executive orders

By Reza Pedram

Special to The Voice

Reza Pedram

Reza Pedram

February 1 marks the first anniversary of my family’s arrival in the United States, and more specifically, here in Seattle. I immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan with my wife and four young children. Back in Afghanistan, I worked on behalf of the United States Government for six years as a project manager in the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In my role at USAID, I represented the U.S. government and its interests by working closely with local Afghanistan governments to implement good governance and promote democracy.

Immigration to the United States was not a choice for me. Working on behalf of the U.S. government for six years required that I communicate with local communities, interact with government employees, represent USAID in media, and travel to different parts of Afghanistan to survey the U.S. government’s programs. All of these roles made me a high-profile target.

Withdrawal of U.S.-allied forces in 2014 marked a tangible decline in safety and security in Afghanistan, especially for those who have represented the U.S. government there since 9/11. I received numerous personal threats from anti-government groups, including threats of assassination, the kidnapping of my children, and direct harm to my family. All of this was due to the fact that I worked for the U.S. government. In 2015, as these threats escalated, I realized that Afghanistan was no longer safe for me and my family and so we began the process of immigrating to the United States.

I chose to move to Washington state, as I believed it would be family-friendly and diverse, with seemingly little prejudice toward immigrants. I came to Washington with hopes of using my education (I hold two master’s degrees: one in political science from OSCE academy in Kyrgyzstan and the other in psychotherapy from IBAM University in India) and professional experiences to find a rewarding career, and to raise my family in a safe, welcoming community.

During my first days in Seattle, the diversity of the population and the comfort and confidence of the immigrants who I met affirmed these hopes. I thought, “Washington state not only has immigrants, but Muslim immigrants who hold public office!” As a Muslim immigrant, this was a good sign for me.

Despite these largely public, positive signs of the progressiveness of the culture here, I was soon reminded that seemingly smaller, less-public assumptions about race and religion would reveal that our accepting culture still has a long way to go.

Late last year, I experienced blatant discrimination, most likely based on my name (my given first name is Mohammad) and appearance—having come from the Middle East, I resemble the stereotypical Muslim, complete with olive skin and dark features. It was a strong reminder that even in such a seemingly open, diverse and welcoming community, there is still covert prejudice against Middle Easterners and Muslims.

Vetting and bans are already happening every day in these small ways−we have enough work to do on our own individual biases. Political policies that condone prejudice and bias (which is what the President’s recent executive order regarding immigration stands to do) only promote further divisiveness and pave the road for further discrimination against faith, language or racial minorities.

In a country like the United States which is, in fact, an immigrant land, discrimination against refugees and immigrants is inherently contrary to the American values that have been in practice for centuries. Controlling terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism is a valid effort that is strongly supported by the majority of Muslims living here in the United States, but vague policies that do not reflect the true threats of terrorism only encourage discrimination against Muslims.

In my opinion, the immigration ban proposed by President Trump will be a good excuse for rogue terrorist groups to blame America for being anti-Muslim and persuade radical Muslims to perform terroristic attacks against U.S. national interests all around the world. It will disrupt the life of many people whose families are not in the United States. All we can do is to do civil protest and ask the Trump administration to reconsider such decrees.

Pedram is an Aging & Disability Case Manager with Neighborhood House.

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