The American Dream is Human Rights

The following is an article by Fayezeh Haji Hassan which was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette February 5, 2017.
Ms. Hassan graduated from Duquesne University School of Law in June 2017.

The American Dream is human rights

I have lived in chaos where there is no rule of law. Please, Americans, do not turn us away

I am a woman, a Muslim and an Iranian immigrant living in Pittsburgh. My family was forced to flee to Afghanistan and live under the Taliban because of the constant death threats my father received from the Iranian government for defending religious minority groups.

The Taliban forbade women from going to school; this was the most traumatic experience of my life because all I wanted to do was to study. I escaped the death threats of one dictator regime in Iran to endure the death of my dreams under another one in Afghanistan. But it did not stop me. I opened a home school in our neighborhood and taught younger girls.

This is my last year of law school at Duquesne University, and I know I have answered my life’s call. I have lived in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt. I am in America studying law because of the human rights violations I have experienced. I came here to equip myself with the best tools to help people at home. When I say home, I do not mean Iran. I mean any place —  I love every country that I have lived in — that needs my help and any child who is experiencing what I have experienced.

I learned early on that rights are not always given; sometimes rights must be taken. Now I am shifting gears. When I came here seven years ago, I did not believe my human-rights education would be needed in the United States. Now, I am planning to stay, to defend what is mine, and what is ours.

The new immigration ban on Muslim-majority countries has generated worldwide anxiety and stress. It has compelled me to understand the culture, values and mindset of my new home. Therefore, I subscribed to President Donald Trump’s Facebook page and have spent hours reading the comments to understand why people support this immigration ban. Here is what I have observed:

• This is a political game for many people, but it is not for those of us affected. I have not seen my family for seven years. I have gone through the long process of immigration, and I still do not even have my green card. I feel that most people who support this ban lack empathy. Some may feel that this is “their country” and that security should be a priority, but what is going on now has resulted in the reverse. I am not a religious person, but I cherish my Muslim identity more today than I ever have in my life.

• Some Americans are scared; it is an irrational phobia and not a valid fear. The New York Times recently published a list describing the long years and daunting security clearances that refugees must go through to get into the United States. It is extreme vetting. A similar process is in place to get a visa. The promise of the Trump campaign was to eliminate illegal immigration, but now the legal process has been targeted. Why? Perhaps because it is easy; supporters of the immigration ban want some kind of action, and they are getting some. They do not care whether it is right or wrong, effective or ineffective.

• Some people point out that, so far, this is a temporary ban. The lack of empathy behind such words makes my heart ache. If these people have an airline flight delayed, even once, they will make a big fuss. Refugees and immigrants have complied with endless procedures, paid their fees and waited with bated breath on every legal step. When they are on the edge of being granted admission to the United States, they are turned away by the stroke of a pen. The effect of this, I promise, is not temporary.

• The United States is my utopia. I came here to learn, to live and to prosper. I am not going to let anyone ruin it for me, so I will stay to fight to make sure we keep this country the way the U.S. Constitution defines it: a beacon of hope and dedicated to the rule of law. I have seen the worst chaos from the absence of the rule of law, and I will try my best to prevent it from happening here.

• The American Dream is human rights. This is a bold statement, but it is the brand that has been sold to the rest of the world, and it is the responsibility of the United States to uphold it. It is the American Dream that gives the United States the power to invade, to sanction, to lead and to draw talent from all around the world. America is the land of immigrants, and we, today’s immigrants, are not giving up on our human rights.

Muslim immigrants are a bridge between the United States and much of the world. And it is not an easy place to be. Do not embarrass us, please. I hate the fact that, when I defend America, I often hear, “You defend the country that discriminates against you for your religion and your country of birth!” Anyone can possess the American Dream, but not every dreamer is brave enough to follow it through.

It takes courage to leave your country, your family, your friends, and to go to a new country where the language is foreign, to start from zero, to work hard, and harder and harder, to see your dreams come true.

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