Originally published by The New York Times
When I tell people that I was born in Uzbekistan, they usually say I am the first Uzbek-American they have ever met. Just as often, they admit they can’t even name a single Uzbek. I worry that the horrific terrorist attack in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday by Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek native, has changed that for the worse.
President Trump placed blame for the attack on the State Department’s “diversity lottery” visa program, through which Mr. Saipov entered this country, and he called for its end. The lottery has few preconditions, but applicants must come from countries with little immigration to America. It would be a shame to eliminate it. The program has allowed my family and countless other immigrants to thrive. Moreover, such a craven move would mean America loses a chance to fight extremism across the world by defining its values on its own terms rather than letting its enemies do so.
I was only 2 years old when my family started a new life in an Atlanta suburb. Our household was quintessentially American, reflecting a hodgepodge of cultures. Like many other boys, I loved nothing more than playing in Saturday afternoon baseball games at our local park and waking up early on Sundays for extra batting practice with my dad. But kids also belittled and taunted me, particularly after the Sept. 11 attacks, because of my Muslim-sounding name. I kept this to myself, which nearly two-thirds of children who are bullied also do.
I had always wanted to be a college baseball player and was thrilled when recruiters from Oberlin College in Ohio came knocking. I was a student-athlete there and achieved the most coveted prize among immigrants: an American college education. Through hard work and more than a little bit of luck, I was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship and I’m in my last year of graduate study at the University of Oxford.
My parents laid the foundation for my success. They have dedicated their lives to public service, spending a vast majority of their careers, absent a few years when they were learning English, working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2015, they even traveled to Sierra Leone, the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak, to help slow the spread of the virus.
My family’s story wouldn’t be possible without the “diversity lottery” program. President Trump’s call to end it does nothing to strengthen our national security. Uzbekistan’s government has willingly helped us fightterrorism. Furthermore, people who enter the United States through the diversity visa program submit to thorough background checks. Although we now know that Mr. Saipov passed his with no red flags, he was reportedly radicalized while in America, not before, a phenomenon no test could screen for.
The diversity visa program should also be preserved because, for many people across the globe, a relative or a neighbor who has managed to immigrate to the United States is their only authentic connection with the country. This was certainly true for my family. At a time when groups ranging from state-sponsored media to terrorist organizations denounce the United States as “the Great Satan,” America can’t afford to turn its back on an opportunity to portray itself as an open, tolerant and diverse nation.
Most important, America is obligated to live up to its promise as a shining city on a hill for aspiring immigrants across the world. The country has always served as a place where people were limited only by the bounds of their imaginations or the scope of their dreams. No person has a greater claim to the American dream than any other, and it would be uniquely un-American to systematically exclude the residents of some nations in an immigration system that disproportionately favors those who are related to those already in the United States.
We face a number of complex challenges in both immigration and national security. As we confront them, however, we have to remember that in America, you’re defined less by where you came from and more by where you are going.
Read more: www.nytimes.com/2017/11/02/opinion/diversity-visa-lottery-trump.html?_r=0