By Claude Salhani
With the Trump administration looking at ethnic categorisation as it redraws lines of ethnicity for its immigration standards, favouring white Europeans over other races, Arabs wishing to achieve the American dream may have to be creative regarding their ethnic origins.
In the past, it did not matter as much but in view of US President Donald Trump’s immigration policy, as explained by Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, being of an ethnic stock seems to matter to those who decide who should be admitted to the United States.
If you bear in mind what Cuccinelli has said, the welcome mat to America is reserved for people from Europe.
The words that greeted new immigrants arriving by sea in New York, those famous words — those precious words: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” — mounted in bronze on the base of the Statue of Liberty will have to be rewritten.
Those words, written by Emma Lazarus as “The New Colossus,” obviously do not agree with Trump’s vision of who should be admitted to immigrate to the United States.
If Trump gets his way, a new version would probably include something along these lines: “Keep your poor at home. Give me your immigrant but only those who have bank accounts and who will not prove to be a burden on the state. Those who will be able to sustain themselves financially.”
Trump is particularly targeting Latinos and among those he is narrowing his target on Mexicans. He says those among them trying to enter the United States are criminals, drug dealers and rapists.
Arabs in the United States will henceforth have an added issue to worry about: on top of facing religious discrimination should they now be concerned about getting too much of a suntan if they intend to visit a US consular officer?
In general, Arabs are white, black, brown or a melange. Indeed, many Arabs are as white as any northern European and others as black as an African and others appear in all shades of white-brown-black and everything in between. How would the Trump administration categorise those? And why should it in the first place?
I can only wonder if my grandparents would have been allowed to migrate to America if Cuccinelli was around calling the shots when they arrived on US shores. Would Khalil Gibran, who wrote some of his best poetry in the United States, have had to worry about the colour of his skin?
And what about other great Arab Americans? People such as Dr Michael DeBakey, of Lebanese origin and credited with saving tens of thousands of lives? The contribution of Arab Americans to the advancement of the arts and sciences in the United States has been tremendous.
Overall, the Trump immigration plan seems to cater not just to white Europeans but to the rich and well-educated elites. The poor, dark-skinned masses need not apply, it seems.
The new rule — pushed by the White House adviser Stephen Miller as a critical piece of Trump’s America First immigration agenda — aims to reshape the immigrant community. Its backers want fewer poor people who might require public housing and food assistance. They aim to reject applications from people with illnesses that may cost heavily on the state.
The Trump administration has said the immigration overhaul would ensure that new legal residents carry their own weight, without prejudice or favour.
Yet the new rule for weeding out those who might be a drain on taxpayers will almost certainly disadvantage poor people from Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia. It will drain developing and emerging countries, including those of the Middle East and North Africa, of elites they need to break the vicious circle of poverty and hopelessness.
The United States is bucking a trend in the developed West as it closes its doors to all forms of mass migration while trying to draw educated elites from poorer parts of the world.
The talented few will be increasingly encouraged to emigrate to the United States and Europe. It does not matter if the discontent of Arab elites is the result of inadequate policies and cataclysmic events in which the West bears a huge part of the responsibility.
Just give me your talented or rich few. The huddled masses can try other shores.
Claude Salhani is a regular columnist for The Arab Weekly and a senior fellow at the Institute of World Affairs.