We are proud Americans. David’s maternal ancestors can be traced back to the Mayflower, and his father came here as a refugee. Constantino is an immigrant himself. He received asylum here after his work as a journalist in his home country put his life in danger. We are direct beneficiaries of America’s greatest virtues: personal liberty and a hospitable spirit that has, for generations, welcomed the world’s “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But if Donald Trump’s presidency signals a new era in which America grows increasingly hostile to immigrants, we’re left wondering if those in need will ever experience the hope and freedom we have.
As Christians, we grieve former president Barack Obama’s actions abroad that have served to spread conflict rather than curtail it. The reckless bombing of the Middle East under the previous administration brought us shame. As citizens, we worried about the erosion of the rule of law caused by Obama’s policies—which has served to strengthen the power of the current president. But an even greater threat to liberty and virtue has now taken seat in the White House, and with it come dire consequences not only to our country but to those who are most at risk abroad. Especially close to our hearts is the plight of our LGBTQ siblings who suffer persecution.
As the Niskanen Center, a Washington-based think tank, points out, the new president’s measures on immigration and refugee resettlement are not only misguided, but may actually make America less safe. These policies are also antithetical to Christian values—helping those who are most disenfranchised, the most helpless. Trump’s harebrained order this week to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on a border wall is at best a red herring distracting us from the more nefarious plans that lie ahead.
Leaked drafts of four upcoming executive orders show that Trump’s administration is poised to remove protections for immigrants who came here as children and have no criminal convictions, curtail legal immigration, and enact a campaign promise to effectively ban Muslims from entering the country. If the Mother of Exiles could hang her copper head in shame, she would.
Each of these measures will affect different segments of the LGBTQ community: Trans people who have grown up here are now in danger of being sent back to countries where they will have no access to the care and medication they may need to remain healthy. Talented foreign professionals who had sought employment at LGBTQ-friendly American companies may be denied entry, forced now to remain in the closet in their home countries. And the trans, bi, gay, and lesbian people who are being murdered by the world’s most oppressive regimes are now even less likely to survive.In March of last year, a gay Syrian refugee in Istanbul sat down for an interview with a reporter. The man, named Sami, and his partner had applied for resettlement through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They fled to Turkey after almost losing their lives in a homophobic attack in Damascus.
Resettlement in countries like America is the only way people like Sami and his partner can truly find safety. In Turkey, they told the reporter, they are still forced to pretend they’re straight. They share a house with other refugees, and when photographs emerged of ISIS militants beheading and throwing gay men off buildings, one of their roommates “made an absurd joke about how he was so amused, had too much fun watching homosexuals. He says now gay men can fly.”
Sami and his partner’s fears about life in Turkey were proven legitimate when, in August 2016, a fellow gay refugee was tortured and beheaded in Istanbul. As reported by international news outlets, Muhammed Wisam Sankari fled Syria in 2015. In Turkey, he was raped and kidnapped more than once before his gruesome murder. According to The Guardian,
One friend, who identified the body, told the organisation it was so mutilated, he was only recognisable from his clothes.
“They cut Wisam violently. It was so violent, two knives had broken inside of him. They beheaded him. His upper body was beyond recognition, his internal organs were out. We recognised our friend from his trousers,” the friend said.
As we sit in our home in Portland, legally married, fiddling with the wedding rings on our fingers, we can’t help but think of brothers like Sami, his partner, and Wisam. Our hearts break for them. If we could, we’d invite them into our apartment, into our community. We aren’t rich, but compared to them, we have so much. Banning Muslim refugees won’t improve our lives; it won’t make us or anyone else in America any safer.
The approach taken by Donald Trump and his supporters is antithetical to both Christian and American values. They are closing the door of hope on those who truly have nothing, who have nowhere else to go.
Photo taken by the authors in Athens, Greece in May 2016.