Donald Trump doesn’t believe in the American dream. Nor does Trump understand the American story. For if he did, he wouldn’t be trying to destroy both by radically rewriting our immigration laws to end family unification, which he despicably refers to as “chain migration.”
I have seen what Trump calls “chain migration” up close and personal. It is my family’s story.
The tale of my Palestinian father, Abdul Musa Obeidallah, who emigrated to the United States in 1957, is neither unique nor extraordinary. It is the typical story of an immigrant who came to this country in search of a better life. What is special in all of this is a place called the United States of America. A nation that is truly exceptional because as George Washington put it, the United States should be “open to receive not only the opulent and respected stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions.”
My father, who passed away 20 years ago next month, was born in the 1930s in what was then called Palestine—Israel didn’t exist as modern state until 1948. After the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, he made his way to Jordan. He was in his late twenties. He had not graduated high school, he spoke basic English with an Arabic accent and his only skill was cooking.
Somehow he was able to get a job as a cook at the United States Embassy in Amman, Jordan. Clearly my father seeking to work in the U.S. Embassy was not by happenstance. While my father lacked a formal education, he understood that America offered him opportunities and a far better life than he could ever imagine in either Jordan or the West Bank. My father was truly one of the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
So, with the help of U.S. diplomats he had become friends with at the embassy, he emigrated to America in 1957. He was the first in his family to visit the United States, let alone live here.
And after growing accustomed to northern New Jersey where he lived and worked as a cook, he did what countless immigrants before him and after did: He sought to bring over his family. He didn’t have children or a wife then. (He would meet my Sicilian mother in New Jersey years later.)