Immigration policies cause distress
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On Jan. 27, President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order that closed the United States to people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Since then, after being blocked by various courts, the executive order has been revised to ban people without current visas from six predominantly Muslim countries, and includes a 120 day ban on Syrian refugees.
The national prominence of these recent events has made students at the high school uncomfortable, but has also moved some to take action to counter anti-immigrant sentiment.
Senior Jeanine Nasser, whose parents are from Jordan and are practicing Muslims, said that the immigration ban perpetuates Muslim stereotypes. According to Nasser, when she was in elementary school, her mother gave a presentation to her grade to debunk stereotypes about Muslims.
“Considering the intentions behind the ban, I was pretty frustrated because so many people in the Muslim community work so hard to combat all these different stereotypes, including ones that pertain specifically to violence or hurting others,” Nasser said. “That’s not something that the Muslim faith supports, which I think people here know, so it’s great that there are so many people here who are vocalizing their opposition towards this.”
Nasser said it is important for individuals to educate themselves about current issues from reliable sources and to make an effort to fact check the information they receive.
Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator Gary Shiffman said that current opposition to immigration parallels the nativist sentiment during great waves of immigration at the turn of the 20th century, which culminated in legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act and backlash against Eastern Europeans who were flocking to the United States. Shiffman also referenced an article about Prescott Farnsworth Hall, a lawyer from Brookline, who crafted the Immigration Restriction League in 1894. The group advocated for a literacy test to bottleneck immigration.
Shiffman, who has dedicated part of his curriculum this year to discussing immigration and nativism in reaction to the proliferation of current immigration debates, said backlash against immigrants often stems from economic stress.
“There’s a lot of anxiety about technological change, change in the labor market and cultural change in America,” Shiffman said. “One historically successfully strategy for coping with that is to blame foreigners for bringing new ideas, new practices or taking our jobs.”
Junior Clara Levrero, who immigrated to the United States with her mother from Rome, Italy when she was five, said that although she is not directly affected by the immigration ban, she still feels unsettled.
“Before, when we got the green cards, we were like, ‘We have a green card, that’s it, we’re all set,’” Levrero said. “But now, you have a green card but you never know. At this point, it’s like, ‘What could happen?’”
Junior Dania Bogdanovic, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Croatia, said that the executive orders made many in her family feel unwelcome.
“Having a president who doesn’t recognize a lot of people that aren’t born here first makes my family members feel uncomfortable,” Bogdanovic said.
However, Bogdanovic said that she is grateful for movements in Brookline to counter the ideals of the immigration ban, including a Facebook page started by students as part of their Social Justice action project called “Portraits of Immigrants Boston,” which tells the stories of immigrants at the high school. She also said that it is important for teachers to continue discussions about immigration in the classroom.
Junior Komal Wasif, president of the Amnesty International club, has gone to Washington, D.C. to lobby for Syrian refugees and hopes to also lobby representatives about the immigration ban. She said that students should get involved, even if they cannot directly lobby politicians.
“If you see a free action this week in Boston, like one of the protests, you can go even for 10 minutes to show support. You’ve just got to be there, you’ve got to be present and have voice,” Wasif said.
According to Levrero, there are a variety of ways that students can support immigrants, from writing to legislators to just being a good friend. Levrero said that people who are in favor of the executive orders should try to sympathize with those who are affected by them.
“Think of what you would feel like if it was done to you,” Levrero said. “Put yourself in the shoes of Muslim families or any immigrant family that is really affected by this, and think about how this would affect you and how you would feel. If you still feel the same way, then fine, but really give it another thought.”
Nasser believes present circumstances will help motivate people to speak out against prejudice and ignorance.
“I think the silver lining to this is that it sheds a light on the bigotry and backlash that the Muslim community has been experiencing for several years, and that more and more people are getting encouraged to be more active in the political processes and making sure that their own rights and the rights of the people that they love are not compromised,” Nasser said.