The Immigration and Ethnic History Society, founded over half a century ago to promote the study of the history of immigration to North America from all parts of the world, expresses its condemnation of the president’s January 27, 2017 Executive Order on Immigration. As scholars of the immigrant experience, we have a particular responsibility to inform the public about the many times when the United States rejected immigrants based on racial prejudice, and when it blocked the entrance to America of refugees and asylum seekers who then perished. Not only did such choices limit the nation’s capacity for economic growth and global engagement, they violated our most deeply held convictions about justice, equal opportunity, and our collective strength as a nation of immigrants.
Border control and homeland security are legitimate concerns in these times, but as scholars committed to the principles of free inquiry and to humanistic values, we condemn the Islamophobic and racist animus that seems to have animated the recently announced policies. The executive order barring the entrance of nationals from several countries may not specifically target those of the Islamic faith, but the allusions in the document make the administration’s intent clear. As such it violates constitutional principles which prohibit any religious test or declaration, a premise of our country from its founding as a nation. The executive order also flies in the face of our nation’s core values as an open society, inhibits our capacity for scholarly and diplomatic engagement, and prevents family reunification.
We urge our national leaders to be mindful of the lessons that history has taught us, particularly when it comes to matters of immigration and refugee policies. We also urge them to remember that immigration made America great and that without the flow of millions of women and men to our shores, there would have been no United States. Furthermore, we urge our leaders to acknowledge that protest and civil disobedience have deep roots in our national history, and that some of our most cherished constitutional rights are not confined to U.S. citizens.
We also condemn the executive order as educators. Our institutions of higher education and our society thrive because of the presence of international students and colleagues who provide new perspectives and enrich our classrooms and scholarship on a daily basis. Rejecting these immigrants goes against decades of efforts to globalize our education and denigrates their contributions to the U.S. economy, society, and culture.
The Executive Board, Immigration and Ethnic History Society