I am the proud Afro-Arab, disabled daughter of Sudanese immigrants. When I was a kid, my father would share stories of his experiences growing up during the tumultuous years of military rule in Sudan, the coup that put Omar Al-Bashir in power, and the two decades of economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies. He described the mass protests against former president Jaafar Numeiri during his youth, and shared the legacy of resistance borne by my foremothers that continues today.
My parents raised my sisters and me here in the U.S., with security and opportunity we could never have in Sudan. Yet, the cruel irony is that my parents would have loved nothing more than to see us grow up on our ancestral lands. Instead, compelled by economic and political unrest, they left their loved ones behind and immigrated to northern Virginia, a move that they never would have been able to make if a new Trump immigration rule had been in effect.
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The new policy, which would expand the existing public charge rule, would require most immigrants seeking green cards to show they have a middle-class income and that they have not (and will never) receive government benefits, including Medicaid and Medicare Part D, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), or housing assistance programs. It would radically rewrite our immigration system to explicitly favor white, wealthy, and non-disabled immigrant applicants.
Most abhorrent of all, it threatens immigrants’ livelihoods by punishing them for using the public benefits they need to survive, just as the U.S. contributed to the disruption of their livelihoods abroad through militarism and unchecked state violence.
In 1998, not long after my parents moved to the U.S., they had to watch their new country attack the homeland they were forced to leave only years before. The American military, under orders from President Bill Clinton, bombed the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan, leveling the only factory in the country producing cheap medicine for tuberculosis or veterinary needs. (Sudan’s economy was primarily based on agriculture.)
The bombing of Al-Shifa, which represented at least 50 percent of total domestic pharmaceutical production, devastated the already strained Sudanese medical system. The Clinton administration justified the attack by claiming it had evidence showing the plant was being used by Al Qaeda to manufacture chemical weapons — evidence that later proved untrue.
Twenty years later, my extended family in Sudan is still managing electricity and water cut offs, gas shortages, and economic insecurity. The U.S. trade embargo, imposed after Sudan was designated as a state sponsor of terror, has served only to deepen wealth inequality in Sudan while empowering Al-Bashir’s brutally repressive military regime to hoard the nation’s wealth and operate with total impunity.
Since 2000, more than 360,000 Sudanese people have immigrated to the United States, like my parents did. Many people arriving at our borders today have been directly impacted by U.S. foreign policy.
Only a few years after the bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant, the administration of President George W. Bush launched the catastrophic “War on Terror.” In the years since 9/11, some half a million people have been killed as a consequence of U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan alone. Another 21 million people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria have become displaced. Today, the U.S.-led “War on Terror” spans 76 countries.
Iraq remains one of the top 10 countries of origin for permanent immigrants to the U.S. annually. In fact, seven of those 10 countries have been subject to violent foreign intervention by the U.S. or crushing economic blockades and sanctions, including Cuba, the Philippines, Vietnam, and El Salvador. Nevertheless, if the public charge rule is implemented in its current form, 60 percent of Central American immigrants and 34 percent of African immigrants would be at high risk of denial.
This is not an accident — it is part of the plan to base our immigration system on white supremacy. The president has made that explicit in his language, and in his broader immigration policies.
Consider what happened with Trump’s very first immigration policy. In January 2017, the administration issued its infamous Muslim Ban, temporarily banning entry of immigrants from my parents’ homeland of Sudan, along with six other majority-Muslim nations. Every country on that list had been subject to violent foreign intervention by the U.S., a fact first pointed out by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT).
Shortly after the ban went into effect, I hurried to Dulles International Airport to provide translation for those impacted. Within an hour, I was approached by a Sudanese father and his young family. I learned that they had been granted an opportunity to immigrate to the U.S. through the Diversity Visa Program, the same program my parents had used in the 1980s (and which the Trump administration has also tried to get rid of).
The father was afraid for his family and asked me to help him arrange their flight back. If they left, they would almost certainly never be able to return, so I pleaded with him to stay and seek legal support. But as he looked around at the chaotic scene unfolding in the airport, this young father of two remained unconvinced. He gripped his wife’s hand and left.
I never learned what became of him, but I still remember his parting words: “I can’t bring my family to a country that doesn’t want us.”
Immigration policy that ties admissibility solely to a person’s perceived economic and social worth is inherently violent. We cannot at once claim to be the world’s moral authority, while entrenching ableism and white supremacy through exclusionary policies at home and imperialist violence abroad. My family has carried the weight of these policies for decades, and millions more will be devastated if the Trump administration has its way.