America is enriched by its immigrants

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Too many Americans are afraid of the wrong people, and it endangers our republic.

I think of this on a spring evening as I text Fatima, a trans woman in Nairobi. She needs to go to a hospital; I send her transport money as I hear shouts from the soccer field around the corner.

Health issues often accompany the poverty of someone like Fatima, who fled from Burundi to Kenya due to hatred and violence fueled in part by right-wing American evangelicals.

I sent her a little money a few days earlier to celebrate breaking the fast on Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Several of my refugee clients are Muslim. Fatima often ends messages, “We will talk again, Inshallah” — if God is willing. I write the same to her.

Religious bullies tend to assume God is jealous and vicious, thus dragging Him down to their own level. In contrast, refugees like Fatima retain their faith despite being demonized by bigoted clergy.

Our countries are not so different. America these days is sorely beset by white Christian nationalists who ironically show no understanding or interest in the teachings of Christ. Their sentiments are tribal, their preferred form of government authoritarian.

Fatima is a gentle soul who has shown considerable endurance, resilience and kindness in the years I have dealt with her from a 7000-mile distance. Despite facing discrimination, threats and violence in the street, she cannot imagine being other than who she is. After all, she has been through, the strength of the Continent lives and breathes in her.

In contrast to the admirable spirit of this displaced person, the racist contempt by Donald Trump for what he calls “shithole countries” reminds us of both his low character and the members of his mob who defiled the Capitol with excrement during the insurrection on January 6, 2021.

I will not abandon my respect and welcome for immigrants and refugees on account of racist xenophobia stoked by a sociopathic demagogue who calls them criminals while himself facing 88 felony charges. We cannot defend America by swallowing a grifter’s lies.

Good character is not magically inherited based on skin color. America has been enriched by several waves of immigrants over the course of its history. The fear and hostility whipped up against people from other lands by Trump is a hypocritical deflection.

The greatest threat to our country comes from within, posed by people who treat America’s diversity as an infection rather than an enrichment. They seek to divide us and destroy our institutions. Their idea of greatness is to reestablish inequities and injustices that generations of Americans of many colors and creeds strove to overcome.

The recent anti-abortion ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court resurrects a dormant law passed in 1864 when Arizona was decades away from becoming a state and women were not allowed to vote. The man who pushed the law at the time preyed upon underage girls.

The ruling has backfired on Republicans, who disavowed the harsh and barbaric 120-year-old law even while blocking attempts to repeal it. Trump now says he opposes a nationwide ban despite having unleashed the current orgy of restrictions by appointing three anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court. His attempt to talk his way out of it does not deter the misogynist theocrats he empowered, who aim to ban contraception.

The Democratic response is simple: “Donald Trump did this.”

MAGA diehards will not budge; but others may be more receptive to the truth that our economy depends on a regular influx of immigrants. If Trump actually shared his supporters’ xenophobia, why did he marry two foreigners and hire undocumented workers at his resorts?

Scratch a Republican outraged over President Biden’s student debt cancellation, and you often find someone who got six-figure PPP loans forgiven. But like Trump, they think the rules don’t apply to them.

Christ teaches us to welcome the stranger. Building trust across differences requires standing in another’s shoes. Many Americans think immigrants are coming to take things from us. That is an impoverished perspective.

Fatima brings qualities no job training program could give, including courage and fortitude. She is a far cry from paranoid Americans who shoot through their door at any stranger who knocks. Having seen the worst in some people, she summons the best in herself.

The gifts that strangers bring to our shores can be transformative. Through many acts of hope and grace, a nation riven by intolerance can be reborn.

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