Sunday, December 20, 2015

An Open Letter to Mr. Barack Obama, President of the United States.

Dear Mr. Obama,

I am a naturalized American citizen of Iranian birth. I moved to this country - on my own - when I was fourteen years old. For the past thirty six years, seventy five percent of my life, I've called the United States home and tried to contribute to this country to the best of my abilities. Scrubbing dishes as a dishwasher at $2.60 an hour to pay for college was not glamorous work, but it was required as a first step in achieving “The American Dream” and I performed it dutifully.

Having now been present at the figurative birth of many transformative software products, having contributed - however little - to some of the great commercial successes in the field of computer science for the past thirty odd years, and having played a small part in the generation of billions of dollars worth of American capital - having done these was just part of the job. These are just what I did to make a living. 

However, having raised a daughter who is now a lawyer dedicating her life to helping the downtrodden, I would argue, is tantamount to having paid my dues to this country. You see, I adopted this country long before it adopted me. 

As such, I hope you will forgive me if stand appalled at this new bill, HR-158, the Visa Waiver Improvement Act of 2015. For those not familiar with the topic, here is what NPR had to say about it. Basically, if I may paraphrase, this bill states: “I recognize we have a huge problem within our borders with millions of guns and assault rifles and people getting killed every day. But, as an elected member of Congress, I am going to continue to collect contributions from the NRA - arguably the root cause of the problem at hand - while I target a small subset of the problem by attacking the very same people who have built the foundation of this country for the past two hundred years, namely immigrants. Never mind that a statistically insignificant percentage of immigrants and foreign visitors to this country ever engage in crime - San Bernardino notwithstanding. They just happen to be the only ones I can easily identify and stop at the border. Further, in this pursuit, I am going to create unnecessary bureaucracy and paperwork - in the same misguided way that we created the TSA to ‘find’ terrorists hiding bombs in their shoes and toothpaste.”

Did I mention that one of my cousins designs jet engines, another one is responsible for water for the city of Anaheim, that an uncle of mine is a professor of economics in Atlanta, that my brother in law is a successful money manager on Wall Street, that my sister in law is a pharmacist, that my wife is an artist? We, sir, are not the ones you have to worry about. We didn't come to harm anyone here. We came to build this country. Please treat us accordingly - with a little dignity.

I have traveled the world (forty five countries to be exact) thanks to that wonderful instrument called the American passport. I hold it proudly as I go into every country as a goodwill ambassador for the US, whether I am traveling for business or for pleasure. To be told that I may have to apply for a visa to return to my adopted country the next time I travel overseas is not just a slap in the face, it’s a first step towards creating second class citizens - based on nothing but racist principles. This is especially ironic coming at the same time that Europe is opening its doors and its hearts to refugees from the very same countries.

The immigrants now living in this country lawfully are not the ones you should be targeting. They’re the ones that have helped make this country what it is. A hundred years ago, they were Italians, Chinese, Irish, and Germans. Two generations ago, they were European Jews, they were Japanese, they were Vietnamese, they were Koreans. One generation ago, they were Iranians fleeing the Islamic revolution, Indians coming for their engineering skills, Mexicans fleeing poverty. Today, they are Syrians and Sudanese, Sikhs and Tamils. Nothing has changed but the color of their skins and the place of their birth - neither of which do they have any control over. 

This is not the first time that xenophobia has gripped this country nor is it the first time that such paranoia has resulted in misguided persecution. I don’t need to remind you of the lessons of history nor do I need to remind you that these are not the principles that this country was founded upon. I beg you to stand up to congress, look every one of them in the eyes, and say as loud as you can: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” Feel free to replace the word “sir” with “madam” where applicable. A few other choice words come to mind, too.

I have given up trying to communicate with my elected representatives who are supposed to be looking after my welfare. Instead, I’m appealing to you as a man of reason and a decent human being - one that, lest we forget, is the son of a Kenyan immigrant himself.

If this bill becomes a law, let me be the first to stand as a conscientious objector and to refuse to comply with it. But I hope we don’t have to go that far. 

Sincerely Yours,
American Citizen Behnam (Ben) Fathi

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