The Metal Cage: Xenophobia in America

A graphic of a person nailing a sign onto a pole. The sign says "Private property no trespassing" with the U.S. flag as its background.
(Alexa Strabuk • The Student Life)

For many of us, an airplane’s touchdown is the end of a journey.

For Zabihollah Zaripisheh, a sixty-year-old Iranian, it is merely the beginning of a grueling struggle.

He flew to New York to celebrate the birth of his granddaughter, only to be caged inside suffocating rooms and cold walls for over twenty-four hours.

Most of us breeze through airport security checkpoints, free from suspicious glares and rough hands.

Nisrin Elamin, a thirty-nine year old Sudanese graduate student, was not so fortunate. To her, security checkpoint officers were puppet masters, toying with her every joint and limb. The Stanford University Ph.D. student was handcuffed and aggressively examined upon her arrival in New York.

When we excitedly walk through an airport’s glass doors, big suitcases in tow, we are often greeted by bright eyes and brimming smiles.

Hamdiyah Al Saeedi, a sixty-five year old Iraqi who has not seen her son in years, was denied this privilege. Ali Alsaeedy thought his mother had trouble with directions, until authorities notified him of his mother’s possible deportation.

For Zabihollah, Nisrin, Hamdiyah, and the tens of thousands seeking entry to the United States–those bombastic, one hundred and forty character threats from President Trump’s Twitter page have metamorphosed into a frightening reality. On Jan. 30, Trump signed an executive order that blocked entry for 218 million people from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Immigrants are typically attracted by the financial mobility that the United States offers, which usually involves various occupational and educational opportunities. However, for some, the United States is a place of refuge from socio-political strife in their home country. In Aleppo, Syria, an ongoing six-year conflict has unleashed a sea of firebombs and bullets, razing homes and villages to the ground.

Meanwhile, Trump refuses to bat an eye–choosing instead to build an empire of glossy skyscrapers and gaudy casinos.

This hypocrisy is further exacerbated by the persistent oppression the Muslim community has already faced since the September 11 attacks. Red ink defiles pristine mosque walls. Blood of peaceful men trickles down concrete streets. Slanderous caricatures plague mass media. On top of this, there is a dehumanizing immigration ban: one that has unfairly victimized Zabihollah, Nisrin, Hamdiyah–and thousands more–because they practice their faith in a different way.

Ultimately, the sheer cruelty of the immigration ban is what renders it unconstitutional. According to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, “no person should receive any preference…or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigration because of a person’s race, sex, nationality, or place of birth.” By disregarding these principles, the Man Who Likes Walls builds a precedent for a divided, hateful America–one that preserves white supremacy at the expense of ethnic minorities and immigrants.  

Many support the immigration ban in the name of security against terrorist attacks. However, these allegations are unfounded. According to an article from The Economist, there have been zero fatal terrorist attacks carried out by citizens from the seven-country immigration blacklist in the last 40 years. Following this line of logic, Trump should issue a ban on cows and fireworks–both of which are more likely to kill Americans than a terrorist attack.

There is also an economic case for Muslim immigrants. According to an article from The Atlantic, it is both the innovative brains and resilient hands of immigrants that boost the American economy. In 2011, immigrants accounted for 28 percent of small businesses employees. In addition, 40 percent of start-up companies in Silicon Valley have founders born outside of the United States. Consequently, the presence of immigrants generates greater jobs and revenue. Chances are, Americans are far more likely to benefit from Muslims immigrants than get hurt by them.

In fact, the immigration ban can prove counterproductive to security. It fuels the fire of radical terrorist groups–a provocative propaganda tool that can be used to recruit new members. If Trump truly wants to keep America safe, he should address gun violence–a cold-blooded killer that claims ninety three lives daily. Ironically, Republicans in Congress continue to shut down legislative measures that expand background checks and close gun show loopholes.

The bigotry and xenophobia that pervades Washington’s upper echelons have degraded America into a complete antithesis of the democratic principles it endeavors to espouse.

As university students, we must fight back. We must stand in solidarity with the thousands upon thousands of Muslims who are trapped in cold rooms, violated in security checks, and separated from their loved ones.

Someday, I hope Zabihollah Zaripisheh can break free from his metal cage.

I want Nisrin Elamin to cut loose the puppet strings that hold her down.

I wish Hamdiyah Al Saeedi can freely run into the warmth of her son’s embrace.

Jolo Labio PO ’20 is from Manila, Philippines. Catch him every Monday-Thursday at 7:59 AM, furiously sprinting to his 8AM at Mason.

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