Opinion: We Can Be Better Than Sending Sick People to Certain Death

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We can do better than sending sick people to certain death, forcing them to literally beg Emperor Trump for their lives. We can do better than taking issued student visas away because the student’s friends may have said something we don’t like.

I realize there are so many other catastrophic things, like the hurricane that devastated the Bahamas and is on its way to America. But few things are as simple and straightforward as basic compassion.

Last week, the Harvard Crimson reported a story about a freshman from another part of the world whose visa was withdrawn because of something his friends said on social media. The visa has since been reinstated,

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I am glad for that. But I’m not willing to let the Trump administration off the hook that easily. That was one welcome instance where there’s a reversal.

There is no clear reversal of the policy to deport people whose medical conditions can’t be treated in their home countries. Neither of these wrongs should ever have happened in the first place. They’re both inherently cruel.

Welcome to the Trumpian version of McCarthyism, which is all part of the master plan of pandering to his white supremacist base.

Those who defend Trump by claiming he is the least racist president ever, or by pointing to the fact that Ivanka converted to Judaism after marrying Jared Kushner, are completely missing the point.

Whatever Trump’s personal beliefs, they are secondary to what his policies say about us and to the world. For the sake of argument, he could be the most enlightened person in the history of the world, but that doesn’t matter when he’s building walls to keep brown people out, passing laws to keep Muslims out, and throwing people who are sick and dying out because they have brown skin. If Trump’s policies were more consistent with the values we aspire to live by, one could be forgiven for overlooking his personal character flaws – for the good of the nation.

Yes, the idea would be to have an enlightened president with enlightened policies. But if I had to choose between a racist with enlightened policies, or an enlightened person with racist policies, I’d take the racist with enlightened policies.

While the story about the Harvard freshman was making the rounds, people who are here legally under a medical deferment program  were getting Stephen Miller-level, ice-cold letters telling them to get out of the country in 33 days or be subject to the DOJ-controlled deportation process. Many of the people in this program have cancer and other illnesses that, left untreated, will mean death. There is no escaping that fact. There is no spinning it into something about brown people wanting free stuff from hardworking white people.

The reason this group of people are here is because the life-saving treatment they are getting isn’t available in their home countries. Without that treatment, they will die. Oh, and by the way, some were invited here as research patients and what is learned from their treatment will benefit other people with the same illnesses. Other American people with the same illnesses. So enough about this being charity to the undeserving.

After negative press and outrage expressed in letters from members of Congress, the administration announced it would re-open “some requests.” Wow.

Both things illustrate how insanely cruel Trump’s immigration policies are. And while I think this is us at the moment, it doesn’t have to always be us. I also firmly believe that we can be better than this.

When we’re sending people to certain death or denying people entry to study because of their friends’ political views, it’s tempting to say that’s bad and stop the analysis there.

But, maybe because I’m an immigrant, I see these examples as mere symptoms of a much deeper problem.

We go through this every time there is a new wave of immigrants, be it the Irish during the potato famine, the Jews during World War II, people of color today.

The thing that bothers me is, if we are better than this, why do we keep making the same mistake? We go through this mindless dehumanization and inherent cruelty while patting ourselves on the back for our generosity. Or more specifically, while economic predators like Donald Trump hire undocumented workers at lower wages and under conditions that are more favorable to their profit margins, we the people blame the immigrant.

They wouldn’t come if the jobs weren’t available and the reason the jobs are available to them is because employers won’t provide the conditions that are required for Americans.

Granted, many of us get why this runs against the values that America aspires to live by, many more than those who want to be like countries that base identity on blood lines instead of ideas. But it seems that every time there is a new wave of immigrants, the same xenophobic morons come back from the dead to spew the same rhetoric before a new-found group of converts.

At the same time, one can point to the positive fact that the Trump administration appears to be walking truly horrific decisions back. But we have to keep an eye on them. It isn’t like Trump and his cronies are the most honest, compassionate people in the world. If they are reversing policy, it isn’t because they had an epiphany; it’s because of the bad press.

In the case of the Harvard student, clearly someone with a brain saw that it was wrong to judge him based on things his friends said – especially since he didn’t post anything remotely political at all. Maybe somebody pointed out that we can’t punish one person for what someone else did, and in this case, we can’t punish either party because someone allegedly expressed an opinion we don’t like.

I am happy that a wrong that never should have occurred is being put right.

But, I still have a problem with the very idea that one’s access to education is based on whether they have political opinions, and if so, if the Trump administration approves of them. Immigrants have as much right to free speech as citizens and permanent residents – under the First Amendment, and by the way, host of international human rights instruments, beginning with the U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political rights.

So, I’m sorry, but freedom of speech is not and should not ever be accepted as merely a privilege for American citizens and those whose opinion have the MAGA seal of approval.

Obviously, freedom of expression does not and should not be confused with hate speech toward any group of people – including Americans. But if, for example, someone expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that should not be a basis to exclude them from entry to America – nor should it exclude all the people this person knows simply because they know the person.

On the matter of medical deferment. I was never at a loss for words until now. For any words that come to my mind don’t adequately expressed how barbaric, disgusting, inhumane and cruel this is. Without question Trump’s cancellation of medical deferment surpasses any level of cruelty that was imaginable within the context of this country – ever before. And while I’m relieved for the people whose lives may be spared as a result of reversals, again, this never should have happened.

It’s one thing to, ostensibly, wish to get rid of the “bad hombres” Trump mentions in his hate-laden speeches. No one would dispute deporting violent criminals and people whose “crimes” actually are crimes – not merely violations of civil law – which is what entering unlawfully was before Trump.

But we’re not talking about bad hombres. We’re not even talking about people who entered the country illegally. If you’re on medical deferment, you’re here legally. In some cases, your treatment is part of a study  to advance knowledge about the treatment of a disease that Americans get too.

To say it’s galling to kick this person out is the understatement of the year. And unlike Donald Trump, the people in this program have not harmed our international reputation, our national security or the planet’s existence with decisions made in a matter of days.

It’s a small program – probably less expensive than Trump’s golf weekends for a year. Under the best case scenario, some cases will be reconsidered and the program may be a shadow of its former self.

In 2020, we have an opportunity to reject this sort of decision-making that looks upon immigrants as a threat or a burden. We have to make that rejection emphatic and clear to those who made Trump’s presidency possible – here and in the Kremlin.