How a Muslim immigrant became radicalized in the ways of America

Nearly 25 years ago, my family and I fled war-torn Somalia and sought safe haven in the U.S. I had left one of the most homogeneous societies on the planet and came to a country that is one of the most diverse. I quickly learned that what binds America’s amalgamation of cultures is a sincere belief that the people who make up this society are “one nation, under God.”

I realized the ideals I learned in school — democracy, equality, justice, and freedom — were not merely historical anecdotes but principles deeply held and defended by Americans. Throughout my childhood, people were mostly welcoming and friendly. And while xenophobic strains have always existed in America, the xenophobia I encountered growing up in the 1990s did not usually exceed ignorance or disrespect.

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At a young age, I discovered that if a person got to know me, any preconceived notions they held about Somalis or Muslims were overruled by their direct experience in getting to know me. But today, bigotry toward immigrants, particularly Muslim immigrants, has intensified and accelerated to include vandalism, violent hate crimes and wholesale support for anti-immigrant public policies.

The Founding Fathers advocated for a radical idea, that a nation could be built on democracy, equality, justice and freedom for its citizens. As I came of age in the U.S., I became fixated, even radicalized, with the founding principles of our nation. This radicalization culminated on the day I became a naturalized citizen. While adjusting to life in America, my family and I began the extensive process of citizenship: lengthy forms, biometrics, background checks, medical exams, interviews, an English language test and a civics exam — until finally we took the Oath of Allegiance. In short, we, like millions of immigrants, earned our citizenship. My commitment to the Oath of Allegiance did not stop at my naturalization ceremony, like most immigrants turned citizens, I took it to heart. This commitment led me to study political science at University of California-Berkeley and later earn a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis with a focus on civil and human rights.

As a law student, I took my American values back to Somalia and contributed my legal expertise to strengthening the rule of law in Somalia. I had deep discussions with people who witnessed some of the world’s most egregious human rights atrocities. I found Somalis are primarily concerned with achieving a better life. I was constantly asked about life in America, more specifically about the American Dream. They are attracted to the radical notion that a poor immigrant could relocate to America and build a successful life while enjoying equal rights and freedom. I proudly told them that, if you’re going to be an immigrant, the best country to immigrate to is the U.S. It pains me that I can no longer boast about America’s receptiveness to immigrants under the Trump administration.

Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim majority countries is an assault on our American ideals. The Trump administration reasons that by banning Muslim immigrants, America will be protected from the possibility of a radical jihadist terrorist inflicting harm on Americans. The benefit of hindsight disproves this theory, as no immigrant from the seven banned countries has carried out a fatal terror attack within the U.S. in more than four decades. Allowing Muslim immigrants into the U.S. is far more likely to produce a radical American constitutionalist than a radical “Islamic” terrorist.

Muslim immigrants continually contribute to this country by establishing businesses that create jobs, setting up charities, engaging in civic duties, and abiding by the law and paying taxes. Moreover, naturalized citizens passionately defend the Constitution as members of the armed forces, law enforcement, civil rights advocates, public officials, and activists. Like millions of Muslim immigrants, I am the successful product of a compassionate and inclusive immigration policy.

The Founding Fathers would be appalled at the notion of banning immigrants based on their faith. They would argue it’s unconstitutional, immoral and un-American. The Muslim ban betrayed my American ideals, insulted my religion and degraded my country of origin.

I am proud of the numerous ways my fellow Americans resisted the Trump Administration’s attack on our civil liberties. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to not reinstate the ban was very commendable, but it is a temporary relief. We are long overdue for an honest and open dialogue regarding long-term progressive immigration policy. In an effort to foster understanding, I urge anyone who supports, or is indifferent, to the Muslim ban to do something radically patriotic — get to know one of the millions of Muslim immigrants already living here. You will find that they are just as American as you.

Barre, a recent law school graduate, is a San Diego resident.

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