Brief thoughts on immigration in American Politics


Let me point out right away that I do not consider myself an expert on American politics. Even after living in the US for more than a decade, and claiming to be a political commentator about my faraway homeland, I will admit that there is still a lot I don’t know about the politics here. America has a very complex history, is always changing and full of surprises. As a refugee and due to my African culture and tradition, I am very grateful for the freedoms I enjoy here. Therefore, I reserve great respect for this vast land of liberty where refugees running away from political and religious tyrants across the world come running to hide. But it is difficult to shut up and not voice my opinion especially when being opinionated is one reason I am a refugee in America. But when the topic turns to immigration, one cannot help but see some ugly side to the politics. And that is very concerning, especially in the current presidential campaign.

FJ MANNEH 2The immigration debate in America is a very intricate, contradictory and funny one, if not bizarre. The fact is that America is an immigrant nation. In Minneapolis, for instance, most white people I meet have ancestries from Norway, Sweden and Finland. I am so fascinated by their history that I volunteer my days off from work to serve coffee and help in the kitchen for visitors at the American Swedish Institute.

Swan Turnblad was a Swedish immigrant who later became a successful publisher of the only Swedish newspaper in America. He built this huge mansion on Park Road in Minneapolis and lived there with wife and daughter. The architecture and the interior design are magnificent. He later gave it away as a museum for Swedish and Scandinavia cultural ties to America. Swan’s parents and most immigrants in Minnesota at that time had fled from famine in Scandinavia. When they got here, some went into different business ventures. Their successes are still visible in many old elegant mansions that line up Minneapolis’s once popular streets. The treacherous cold weather in Minnesota was also favorable to these immigrants who had been used to the brutal cold climes of their homelands.

And there are huge nursing homes in the city catered to wealthy Jews. Similar immigrant story of coming to America to escape hardship. I miss my old mother so bad that I volunteer on Saturdays to go play games with nursing home residents, take them out for fresh air or watch historical movies with them. The same can be said of the Italians in New York, the Irish in Boston, and the British in Virginia. No city in America reminds one of England as much as the Old Town Alexandria in Virginia. The houses and streets are reminders of the British/European in America. The women still look like the English women in the Bronte sisters’ novels. The air in Virginia and just about everything else make one feel they are walking in the streets of Leeds or Portsmouth. In California, it is similar story for Asians and the Latinos; and in New Orleans, for Africans. America is indeed a melting pot. Safe to say America is the most immigrant country in the world.

If Africans were not transported into the USA as slaves, but left to venture out on their own, they would have left memorable monuments too to be cherished by this current generation of African immigrants flooding cities in America. And even the cruelty of slavery could not erase the imprint of the genius left behind by some African slaves. Phillis Wheatley, a slave from Senegal who became the first published female African-America poet, Alex Haley claimed ancestry to a Gambian slave called Kunta Kinte, that led to the book Roots: The Saga of the American Family ,and Yarrow Mamout, a slave from Guinea who became a financier, just examples. And yes, we have seen how great sons and daughters have risen heads above water to carry on the legacy of their tormented, deprived and enslaved ancestors. God bless their souls.

America is so related to many races and ethnicities from all over the world: Jews, Arabs, Europeans, Africans, Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Latinos, and countless others. The American Founding Fathers laid out an endless vision for this country when it comes to humanity. They also understood the pain and weight of the yoke of colonialism. Most of them were aware as well that extreme freedom could lead to anarchy. And as much as they stood for religious liberty, majority of them wanted their politics to be built on or emanate from the moral teachings of the Bible.

Former Speaker of the House Robert Winthrop argued that: “Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet.” The first President and Father of the Nation, General George Washington stated that: “Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society.” Samuel Adams opined that: “Mankind are governed more by their feelings than by reason.” On securing the Republic, he wrote that: “He who is void of virtuous attachments in private life is, or very soon will be, void of all regard for his country. There is seldom an instance of a man guilty of betraying his country, who had not before lost the feeling of moral obligations in his private connections.” And sure this great humanist and founding father pleaded that: “Our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty.”

Voila! Here is where I and millions running away from political persecutions from afar fit in and claim America as home. If we are to be raw and to the point, we can argue that our ancestors are forced to come to this land, and made great contributions to the development of America. Most of the old money from bankers or politicians or institutions had been made off of the backs of slaves.

But I do digress. American politics is not always as high-minded and beautiful as its most beautiful minds wish it to be. Sometimes, it seems consumed and driven by selfish voices. And when it comes to immigration, this most welcoming nation and all its cherished liberty has a lot of room for a vocal minority who scream nothing but bigotry, racism and xenophobia. Contradictory? Yes, Fascinating? Oh Yes!

As in the past, Immigration, Healthcare, Education, National Security, the Economy and Foreign Policy are the top issues in this election. And the presidential candidates who fail to drown out the competition with the most bombastic or outrageous soundbites are going to lose out big time with both democratic and republican voters.

When Donald Trump came out as the Republican front runner, it sent shock waves across the bowels of both parties. Because, number one, he is a billionaire; and number two, he has a big mouth with no filters for political correctness. He has money so he doesn’t need rich donors and doesn’t care about the lobbies that finance political campaigns. But Trump reserves his most vitriolic outbursts for us, the immigrants. When he declared that he would charge Mexico for the wall he would build on the border to keep their drug dealers, rapists and murderer out (OMG!), the Latinos went caliente. So boiling hot with rage were the Latinos that the verbal feuds and imbroglio that ensued engulfed the media houses. This has become a schadenfreude for the hardcore Republicans. Oh God, most are so elated by the rise of the Donald Trump.

I can’t help feeling that we Africans will also get our Donald Trump treatment. Immigrants in general and we African immigrants in particular can be said to be mostly Democrats. Because we tend to think that the Democrats want us here while the Republicans don’t. And when it comes to economic opportunities and social policies like education and healthcare, we feel it’s the Democrats who speak to us. We are not terrorists so we are cool on that front. But if Donald Trump can lash out at the Latinos so vehemently, imagine what he will do to us Africans.

That said, I believe that The Donald is a fake Republican. Come on…He is just shouting what the racist, right wing Americans want to hear. Most of Donald’s women/wives/girlfriends over the years have been immigrants. Some cannot still speak English very well, I guess. He is just trying to please the Republican far right with rants about everything the Democrats stand for. I believe if he wins, he will be good for this country. He is already rich, he knows how to bring jobs to cities. And he has a loud and hot mouth that many will think twice before attacking him. I am loving it. He sends all republicans scrambling. They are not used to a bombastic dictator that they think Trump is.

To a point they are ready to support another black man, a neurosurgeon in the name of Ben Carson. There cannot be a better time for blacks in politics in America. Hope Michelle Obama and Condoleezza Rice or Beyoncé can throw their hats into the ring.

It won’t be so easy and smooth for The Donald, though. Americans don’t just vote for the most popular as their commander-in-chief. They go for cooler heads with the smarts and brains, but also factoring in inclusiveness. Obama was a perfect candidate for that and so is Hillary Clinton. The girl I can’t wait to see clobber all the Republican big boys and send them to sleep. Carly Fiorina has already given them some girly punches and high-heel kicks.

Why are so many Republican candidates so hostile toward immigrants? The great irony is that most of them and their supporters have great grandparents who came here for the American hustle. Though Ben Carson’s background is different, his rhetoric isn’t. The doctor said a Muslim should not be President of America. Allahu Akbar, how dare he? The non-confrontational man wouldn’t withdraw but clarified his comments as he gets more support from the ring wing conservatives.

I applaud him too in a sense. I mean it. We Muslims have a lot of work to do. I am a practicing Muslim who believes there is no God but Allah and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is the last prophet. But for those among us who get our understanding of this beautiful religion mostly with the help of google, God help us. Terrorism has turned the name of our religion, Islam, into a misunderstood sanctuary of brutal, sadistic angry men looking to strike anyone who does not conform to their fanatical brand.

Yes, that is how Islam is understood for the time being and we don’t want them rule over America anytime soon. Let the Arabs spend their billions of oil money on making us look better. If the kind of leadership that exists in Muslim countries today comes to America, where in the world would the oppressed run to? No apology Mr. Carson for that comment. Republicans can be hypocrites, but not everything that comes from them is outright cruel.

America should be well protected. Let freedom ring! The world is getting more complicated and America needs its muscle to tackle tyrants. Just leave the immigrants alone in peace. And in spite of all the tough rhetoric, the President of United States cannot do whatever he wants. He doesn’t have the power and cannot violate the laws and the Constitution as he pleases without consequences. The office operates in a system of operation of powers. The three branches of the government got so many layers that no President can just wake up and bomb some other country, kill his own citizens at random or send the intellectuals into a mental or political asylum. God Bless America!

Meanwhile in Africa, the opposite is true for most countries. Most recently, the presidential guards in Burkina Faso crashed into a cabinet meeting and arrested the transition President and Prime Minister and declared themselves the leaders. They staged this monstrous power grab with the backing of the former President as suspect, who had been ousted in a popular uprising for staying in office for 27 years and was trying to amend the constitution so he could remain there forever. Thank God we have good and courageous men like President Macky Sall of Senegal who rushed to the scene and saved another country in the region from going up in billowing smoke. Senegal is one of the few democratic countries in West Africa that dukes out its electoral process democratically.

But President Sall’s cantankerous and despotic neighbor, Yahya Jammeh, is still busy baiting to kill us all or send us into a clinical asylum. For him, political asylum is too forgiving for his enemies. By the way, thanks to the Comedy Central’s Trevor Noah for making this “Aids-curing” banana-medicine man even more infamous to the world as another lunatic wielding power in Africa. Alas, that’s the crazy idiot my country calls president. Only in America can the talented comedian from Africa do such a hilarious parody. Warning to Trevor: stay clear of The Gambia from now on. Yahya Jammeh will abduct you the second you set foot there and he won’t be so kind to feed you with his Aids-medicine bananas. That is the world some of us have run away from.

So let America be! Let the battle for the White House continue. Let’s see how far money, popularity, a beautiful face, smart brains or background will take the candidates. Whatever the outcome turns out to be, we still enjoy the process.  Even if the likes of Donald Trump scare the hell out of us on immigration, there is nothing quite like American presidential election campaign. God Bless America!

Written by Fatou Jaw Manneh

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