Current Emirates Leadership Initiative Fellow Ziad Reslan offers a pragmatic and personal response to President Trump's recent executive order restricting travel from seven predominantly-Muslim countries. From Nick Kristof's New York Times blog On the Ground.
February 2, 2017 11:34 am
I am one of thousands potentially affected by Friday’s executive order, which promises to be a great disservice not only to immigrants, but also to America.
My full name is Mohamad Ziad Reslan. I am a citizen of three countries: Syria, Lebanon and Canada – Syrian father, Lebanese mother, and a naturalized Canadian after years of living there. I was born and raised in Beirut, and have lived and travelled in and around the Middle East.
Now I live in Boston, as a graduate student at Harvard. This executive order threatens the existence of students like me, who have come to learn and later will return to our countries as America’s biggest champions in the Middle East.
Needless to say, I have been through my fair share of secondary security checks at U.S. borders. I have missed flights while waiting for hours at the Custom and Border Patrol pre-travel clearance in Toronto. When I wanted to see Niagara Falls from the U.S. side, I accidentally delayed a bus full of tourists for over an hour as border officials checked my background.
Regardless of how many times I have been held, I have not once complained. I always understood that my profile raises red flags, and appreciated that that meant enhanced security checks. I too benefit from a safe and secure America.
But I also always knew that my papers were in order; I have nothing to hide. No matter how long I was held, I was certain that I would eventually be allowed in.
With Friday’s executive order, I am no longer certain. I worry now that if I leave, I won’t be let back in. I am now reconsidering whether to attend academic conferences abroad that I signed up for months ago. I am too frightened to go. I have heard stories of students of Muslim extraction being detained at the border, regardless of what other passports they hold. I cannot imagine risking being barred from this country in the middle of my studies.
I am not unique. Thousands of students from the seven countries named in the order, and across the Muslim world, are in the same boat. Unlike refugees fleeing wars and persecution, we students are lucky. Most of us are well-off enough to afford schooling in the United States. Once back home, we will be able to find a job and continue with our relatively privileged lives. This story is not about our plight but rather the loss that America and the world will suffer from our exclusion.
After spending a few years here, we go back home with affectionate knowledge of Americans and their culture. We serve as diplomats of American culture, as informal advisers, as cultural bridges. It will now be harder to sell the American dream of a nation blind to religion and creed back home. It will be harder still to defend U.S. foreign policy, when America bars citizens of the very countries its military has targeted.
America has long had a tradition of welcoming international students who go on to play the role of cultural ambassadors exceptionally well — from reformers like Benazair Bhutto to Nobel Laureates like Juan Manuel Santons. No matter what foes America has had, its universities have always been open to the world. And that has benefited America tremendously. As Lee Kuan Yew, the late Prime Minister of Singapore, famously said, “China can draw on a talent pool of 1.3 billion people, but the United States can draw on a talent pool of seven billion.”
By opening their doors, American universities have been able to fill their classes with the world’s foremost minds. Now, for the first time, admissions offices at schools across the country, including mine, have to seriously weigh whether to admit talented students who may never be permitted to attend.
Truth be told, despite the hate-filled actions of the present administration, my experience living in the United States has been overwhelmingly positive. I have stayed here because of the kindness and openness Americans have always shown me. I stay because of the unparalleled education I know I can only get in America. For now, I am staying put in the hope that Americans will live up to what I know they are capable of, and fight for the repeal of Friday’s executive order. My heart breaks for the thousands who, unlike me, might never get to experience America at its best. Their loss is a loss for all Americans and the world.
Ziad Reslan is an attorney and a graduate student of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.