Yes, the United States is the “Great Melting Pot.” Yes, it is the land of opportunity. But there was never a time any particular group fleeing another land en masse was welcomed with open arms by everybody.
It goes all the way back to the native people of North America, when the English, French, Spanish and everyone else with a decent naval fleet or a population looking to get away from the homeland started showing up. It has never really stopped since. America is the land of opportunity for those who come here. But, once they get here, they can be resentful of any other group taking the same path.
The mass migrations of the 1900s are over, but there are still groups of people with a fervent paranoia about immigrants — illegal or legal — and refugees entering the country. There’s certainly some of that in West Virginia, where Donald Trump carried the state by a landslide in 2016 on messages that included plans to ban Muslims from entering the country and a wall to keep immigrants out at the southern border. Some West Virginia politicians have since built campaigns carrying this message.
Such rhetoric is backward and makes the state look bad, while also running counter to the basic idea that America is open to everyone. But there are other problems with this type of messaging.
For one, it’s not as if West Virginia is being overrun by immigrants or refugees. Three refugees from war-torn nations settled in West Virginia last year. Three. Not exactly a tidal wave of migration coming to “steal jobs” or “impose sharia law.”
It’s not like those refugees just came over here incognito and began living tax free, either. As Amelia Ferrell Knisely reported in the Sunday Gazette-Mail, it took one of those refugees, Najib Ahmad Bakhtari, of Afghanistan, three years of vetting and paperwork to get approval from the United States to resettle here. During that time, his life was in danger, not just from the war and terrorist attacks surrounding him, but also because he was communicating with American officials in order to obtain his visa.
And what did this man, who came to a country where immigrants and refugees are being villainized and the president’s administration has slashed the number of refugees allowed in the country, have to say once he got here?
“The thing that got me about West Virginia was the beauty of the mountains and peacefulness of the small towns,” he told Knisely. “I’m happiest because anywhere I go, people have been helpful.” He had to use a translator for the interview, but he’s already taking English as a Second Language classes, and he has a job in South Charleston. He’s hoping to pursue a college degree, perhaps in accounting.
Does that sound like someone who came here to leech off the system and somehow undermine the country from within?
Yes, the United States needs a better way of monitoring illegal immigration, but refugees and immigrants are coming here for a better life for themselves and their families. They’re coming here to contribute, not to tear down or take away. West Virginia, with a declining population and one that is older than almost all other states by average, could use an infusion of people looking to lay down roots help build up local communities.