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For Arizona’s children of immigrants, this election is personal

Photo by Zerbor

Photo by Zerbor

I am a first-generation daughter of immigrants born and raised in Chandler, Arizona.

My parents immigrated from Syria to the United States in the 1980s under the friendly immigration reforms passed by President Ronald Reagan, a Republican leader who stands very much in contrast to President Donald Trump’s determined effort to dismantle the U.S. immigration system.

With every citizen with conscience and a commitment to our democracy, I will be voting emphatically for former Vice President Joe Biden on Election Day.

My family and I have been Arizona residents for decades, and belong to the small, yet significant, Muslim American community which comprises 1% of the state’s adult population.

I graduated from Arizona State University alongside first-generation college students, recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and students with families of mixed immigration status, each dedicating their education to honor the sacrifices of their parents’ invaluable contributions to the United States.

Diana Rayes

Diana Rayes

Arizona has been a front line state in our country’s immigration debate, but don’t let Trump fool you – my classmates, colleagues, neighbors, and I bear the fruits of our country’s pluralism.

Trump continues to relentlessly attack immigrant families like mine, extending his racist rhetoric to refugees and asylum-seekers fleeing violence and persecution in their homelands. My family is one of the few in our neighborhood who have been tangibly impacted by the Muslim ban enforced by President Trump, which effectively prevented any member of seven Muslim-majority countries to enter the United States, including Syria. The Trump administration has also critically reduced refugee admissions to the U.S, with recent proposals to slash refugee admissions to an all-time low of 15,000 by 2021.

For the last four years, I have watched while countries like Canada, Germany, and Sweden opened their doors to my Syrian cousins, aunts, and uncles, while the country that once welcomed my parents turned its back on vulnerable people who bring valuable skills and talent to each community. This is despite the evidence that shows that immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers are a net plus for American life – my Arab-Muslim community in Phoenix alone is composed of educators, doctors, soldiers, small business owners, and teachers.

For decades, Joe Biden, a descendent of Irish Famine migrants, has led on immigration reform. He ran for president in response to Trump’s stoking of white nationalism in Charlottesville, and as president, he will bring Americans together. He has pledged to end the Muslim ban on Day One, to leading on creating pathways to citizenship for Dreamers, and to ensuring his administration looks like America in all its diversity. In his first year in office, Biden has committed to resettle over 125,000 refugees, prioritizing those who were backlogged under the Trump administration. These are individuals who contribute to our societies, and as we see in a state like Arizona, are the backbone of our industries, including essential workers and health staff working hard at the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic to keep fellow Americans safe.

One week ahead of the most consequential elections in our lifetime, I am wary that this country is not the same one that welcomed my father in 1982. In honor of his sacrifice, and that made by millions of immigrants around the United States who left their homelands to make this country a better place, my goal is to dedicate my life and privilege as a first-generation American citizen to vote for a president who will restore the soul of America and bring back the country of belonging that I was raised in and recognize.

Diana Rayes is a PhD student at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where she is specializing in the impact of conflict and displacement on refugee health. Twitter: @diana_r7


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