After I heard about the 7 Nation Immigration Ban on Friday evening, I experienced a swirl of thoughts and emotions. I knew I needed to write about it but I wasn’t sure where to start.
I thought about writing about how highly guests are honored in those 7 nations and how the insult we are messaging is much stronger than just political. How I have experienced Middle Eastern hospitality over and over again and how much it has taught me about opening my home to guests and even strangers.
I thought about telling the story of the sweet young couple (he a high school science teacher and she a school counselor) who I tutored for the TOEFL, helped navigate Ivy League University websites, and proofread their application essays. The couple who each wanted to get PhDs in Education in the USA so they could return and help reform the school system in their own country. The couple who brought me a cake when they were accepted (on their own merit!) to at least one of the Ivies they applied to but were ultimately denied visas to attend. I thought about telling this story just to illustrate that US visas are some of the most difficult in the world to receive.
I thought about simply publishing the facts of how difficult it is to obtain a US visa, how rigorous and time consuming the screening process already is, or the statistics on how unlikely it is for an American to be endangered by a refugee in the United States. We are much more likely to be killed by heart disease, a car accident, or even a gun in the hands of a fellow citizen.
I thought about listing the mandates in Abrahamic religions to assist the stranger who asks for help, to care for the poor and needy, and to not turn away the guest who shows up at our door.
But as I kept thinking, I realized even with all these facts and personal anecdotes and religious commands, it actually comes back to something even deeper than all those things for me. It all comes down to love.
Love is risky. “To love at all is to be vulnerable,” C.S. Lewis reminds us in one of his most quoted sayings. Opening our hearts and lives to others involves uncertainty. Love is both an opportunity and a liability. We are sometimes given much greater love and grace in return. But love can also be a one-way street. Just because we extend love to another does not mean that we will be loved in return. We can extend grace to another and not experience grace in return. Sometimes we experience hurt or betrayal or cowardice or any number of ill actions in return.
I do not think it is likely but one of the refugees we welcome to our country could do a bad thing – could hurt someone or steal something or commit an “act of terror”. I do not think it is any more likely for a visa holder to do this than a US citizen but it is possible because all humanity is capable of doing evil and violent things.
Just as in any relationship, we should be wise and cautious and have appropriate boundaries and all of that, but really, all love and acceptance is still a risk. A risk that I think is the bravest and noblest for any person (or in this case – nation) to take. One that can potentially pay off with huge rewards and bring more benefits than you can possibly imagine before you take that risk.
Think of a friend or loved one or partner that you took that risk of love on that now you cannot imagine your life without. Think of all the joy you would not have experienced if instead of opening your arms, you had closed them tight across your chest.
I think of this great nation of refugees and immigrants and I cannot imagine it without them. Partially because I would not be here either. Someone took the risk and accepted my ancestors to this country – willingly or otherwise – and now I have the opportunity to be part of a multicultural democracy that is founded on principles of plurality yet also equality and justice for all. I think about the scientific discoveries we would have missed; contributions to art, literature, and film. I think of the foreign-born engineers who have helped build this country into a world leader in technology and innovation. I think of the friends I would have never known and my heart hurts.
Yes, allowing anyone into your circle – personally or socially or nationally – is a risk. But if that is not a risk that we think is worth taking, then I wonder what we are actually protecting. Because that sounds like a very small life and a very small nation to me indeed.