At some point, it should be much harder to forget American History. Especially when that history becomes sensationalized in cinematic masterpieces that American audiences have thoroughly enjoyed for decades. Let’s take Brian De Palma’s 1983 Crime Thriller, Scarface. The movie, is about a Cuban refugee named Tony Montana, who becomes one of the most powerful drug kingpins in the country. The basis for the main character’s background was based on the true events of the “Muriel Boatlift” in 1980, which saw thousands of Cuban refugees leave Cuba to seek asylum in the United States. Among these refugees were numerous persons released from correctional and mental health facilities in Cuba, one of which was the fictionalized Tony Montana.
1983’s Scarface is actually a remake of the 1932 film of the same name, which used an Italian immigrant instead(who was actually based on the Brooklyn-born Al Capone) who came to the United States during the wave of “New Immigration” of Italian and Jewish immigrants from eastern and southern Europe dating back to the 1880’s. A film about an immigrant coming to the United States victimizing unsuspecting Americans via a life of crime. This is a running theme, not just in cinematic history, but also in actual American history. Griselda Blanco and the Cocaine Cowboys from the 1980’s and 1990’s. Lucky Luciano and La Cosa Nostra in New York before that. Immigrants coming to the United States, bringing their native country ills and using them to live the American Dream. Sensationalized or not, these stories are familiar to the American public. Which gives plenty of ammunition to a typically duplicitous and ethically challenged politician to use to their advantage. Only now, this politician just happens to be the 2016 Republican Nominee for President, Donald Trump.
When Donald Trump kicked off his campaign for this nation’s highest office, it would only be a matter of minutes before he began to stir such fears of criminal immigrant populations to ravage our American society. He said that not only is the Mexican government sending immigrants to the United States, but they’re also sending the worst that they have to offer. Very much like Scarface‘s Muriel Boatlift of 1980, but unlike the actual Marielitos, who were for the most part blue collar workers trying to escape a communist dictator, Trump practically slandered ALL immigrants crossing the Mexican border as real life Tony Montanas.
Donald Trump’s fictional understanding of immigration would not end there. Within a few months, he would learn about the Syrian Civil War and the ensuing refugee crisis resulting from it. After blaming the crisis on our invading of Iraq(which definitely isn’t the cause, by the way), he said that the refugees aren’t mostly women or children(which they are), but actually mostly men(no) who are strong men of a fighting age(wrong again). He went on to suggest that Syrian refugees could possibly be a “Trojan Horse” for the Islamic State to invade America, something he’s continued to repeat even this week.
His main argument, which was augmented by attacks in San Bernadino and Orlando(by Americans born in America, by the way) is based on the assumption that we are not and cannot properly or fully vet refugees coming to America. For this reason, Donald Trump has proposed what he described as “extreme (extreme(extreme)) vetting” to include values based vetting of applicants seeking asylum. Which is odd considering he suggest vetting to see if refugees’ values on gay rights, gender equality and religious freedom match our own when the bulk of his supporters would fail such ideological vetting themselves. Now, while he offered very few details outside of that, it truly sound as if Donald Trump has no understanding of how our immigration system actually works. It seems as if he thinks immigrating to the United States is much like it was in the 1800’s on Ellis Island, a paper application, an eyeball skimming by customs and a stamping of a passport. While typical immigration to the United States is no parts simple or easy(which is partly why we have the problem now), the process with which we handle refugees and Syrian refugees is even much different from that. Refugees who are seeking asylum in this country are screened by a half dozen federal and international agencies and organizations over the course of about two years, much of it outside of our borders, which is also done on a continuous basis, effectively having refugees prove they are no threat to this nation. This is the reason why the number of Syrian refugees in the United States is roughly the size of a city neighborhood. Which is also why the overwhelming majority are indeed women and children. So despite, what Donald Trump believes(or leading others to believe), we can and are fully vetting these refugees. And quite frankly, we have far more home-grown problems to handle than the fictional problems these refugees are not causing.
What’s truly lost in Donald Trump’s sort of ignorance isn’t the effects upon American society that isn’t seen, but it’s the effects on war torn societies, which produces refugees, that are often ignored. Last week, in the Rebel-held territory of Aleppo, Syria, an airstrike hit the family home of Omran Daqneesh. Though he, his brother and sister were pulled from the smoldering ashes of the dwelling alive, the world saw, in graphic detail a vivid reminder of what the crisis in Syria is all about. Omran, who was caked in dust and blood, wore a look of Hell that has shocked those across the world who have seen his visual. Last year, the world was equally shocked by the death a boy, no older than Omran, who washed up on the shores of Turkey attempting to leave the Syrian country being devastated by war.
Meanwhile, here in America, we will forget about what happened to Omran in Aleppo. Just like we forgot about what happened in Turkey last year. We forget facts like overall since 2001, most refugees that come to the United States are from Iraq, which is where the Islamic State was started and is currently based. Yet we’ve resettled over 100,000 Iraqi refugees alone. None have been charged in a single case of domestic terrorism. Actually none of the 750,000 refugees since the 2001 terrorist attacks have been charged with terrorism. Now, without having to knock on wood there are specific reasons why that hasn’t happened. It’s because of our complicated history of immigration and issues resulting that we’ve completely restricted the screening and entry process. But it’s the fact that we are uniquely a nation of immigrants, for immigrants and by immigrants that despite this, we WILL continue to allow those suffering and living through hardships residency. Of course we have to be smart and stay as vigilant as we have been, but to go against this and to renege on the promise of what makes us America is simply unAmerican. Yes, there are undesirables that can and will slip through the cracks. But for every Lucky Luciano, Griselda Blanco or Charles Ponzi, there will also be a Andrew Carnegie, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and Barack Obama.
The New Colossus, the poem written on the Statue of Liberty, which was often seen as the gateway to the United States and our very symbol of American freedom, it says “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses. Yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teaming shore. Send these, the homeless, temptest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” There is no equivocation there. You are not expected to speak a particular language, worship a particular faith or live a particular life to come to America. It is the acceptance of these lives as they are that has already made America great and why we will continue to be even greater. And that’s something we can never lose sight of.