California Forum

Snarling at the world

Samar Alwahiri and daughter Laila Alamri of Yemen arrive Wednesday at Los Angeles International Airport.
Samar Alwahiri and daughter Laila Alamri of Yemen arrive Wednesday at Los Angeles International Airport. Associated Press

Last week, I met a young man in New York City. He is a US citizen; his wife is Yemeni. They began the visa application process when they got married so she could join him in America. Eventually they secured an entry interview at the US embassy in Djibouti, the American offices in Yemen having closed due to the civil war there.

Heavily pregnant, she flew to Djibouti. But just before their interview, Trump’s travel ban kicked in. Her application was summarily denied.

She went into labor a few days later. The family stayed in Djibouti, working to secure a precious US passport for their newborn son. It took nearly five months.

Then they tried to secure a waiver from the travel ban so the young woman could accompany her husband back to the states. After six months of silence from the US government, they had run through their life savings. The man had to return to New York to work; his wife and their breast-feeding infant son flew back to Yemen. There, months later, they are slowly starving to death.

I can’t get this story out of my head. I can’t fathom how, in our names, the American government justifies treating people this terribly.


We are in the holiday season, a time when we are supposed to open our hearts, to be generous both materially and spiritually. And yet, from the Trump administration, there is no sign of generosity of soul. No sign of empathy. No sign of caring for the weak, or showing charity to the stranger.

Trump and his vicious minions regard immigrants -- particularly poor, non-white, non-Christian immigrants -- as dangerous. They are locking the world out of America, and in turn locking America out of the global community. They are making it abundantly clear that they value other countries and cultures and peoples, along with international institutions and multilateral agreements, only to the extent that they can be used to enrich America and enhance its raw power.

Sasha Abramsky.JPG
Sasha Abramsky

In this miserable era, we owe it to our immigrant brothers and sisters to chronicle the deliberately inflicted misery and pain they now undergo. We owe it to them not to let their stories go untold. We owe it to them to say, “Not in our name.”

This past year has been a brutal one for immigrants. Men, women and children are suffering all around the country from the capriciousness of the anti-Muslim travel ban. Families are separated. Grandparents are prevented from even coming to visit their grandchildren. Businesses are disrupted.

The US government was deliberately taking children as hostages on the US-Mexico border for months, a particularly cruel way to deter desperate, impoverished migrants from crossing into the country.

And despite court rulings limiting how long kids can be held, we still are in the business of internment camps for adults along with the thousands of children; places where unaccompanied boys and girls languish in tent cities or in converted superstores, their guards under orders not even to hug them, places where children are given almost no schooling and are at risk from both abuse and epidemic disease.

We have a president who boasts about “catch and detain” policies for asylum-seekers fleeing deadly cartels, street gangs, poverty and failed governments; who promises time and again to build ever-larger, harsher camps to warehouse would-be migrants. Our president fortifies the border with concertina barbed wire against “invaders” who have walked with their young children, in ragged clothes and flimsy shoes, hundreds of miles to seek sanctuary. A president who orders the military to respond to stone-throwers with lethal force – and who, when he doesn’t get his bloodbath, reluctantly settles instead for tear-gassing asylum-seekers and their infants.

I have interviewed Haitian women this past year who were left stranded in San Diego with their children when their husbands, claiming asylum on the border, were promptly arrested and thrown into immigration detention centers.

I have interviewed immigrants held by ICE who report that fellow inmates were beaten until they agreed to sign documents speeding up their deportation or allowing them to be sent to holding facilities in states far from their families.

I have talked with DACA students, who have lived here virtually their whole lives, who now spend every day in fear. Their fear is the result of a deliberate government policy to shred their protections.

I have talked with one family after another the US government is trying to deport: families from Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan and elsewhere who have been here for decades under Temporary Protected Status. A lower court has blocked the administration’s attempt to end TPS, but the government will appeal to the Supreme Court. If the administration succeeds, the families will lose their right to work, their residency, their homes, their cars and everything they have built over decades. There are nearly a half-million people on TPS; they have roughly a half-million US citizen children. Those children aren’t about to move to El Salvador or Honduras or Sudan. If their parents are deported, they essentially will have been orphaned by deliberate fiat of the US government.

I have also talked with legal immigrants, so terrified by the Trump administration’s imminent redefining of “public charge” that they no longer apply for food stamps or medical assistance for themselves or their kids because they fear it will result in their deportation. Instead they go hungry and stay sick.

How any of this makes America great again, I cannot even begin to fathom. It is, quite simply, cruelty for the sake of cruelty. It is sadism as official government policy.

Sasha Abramsky, who teaches at UC Davis, is a Sacramento writer whose latest book is “Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream.” He can be contacted at