The American Society for Ethnohistory (ASE) objects strongly to President Donald J. Trump’s executive order of January 27, 2017, issued purportedly to safeguard the country “from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.” The broad-based international membership of our Society makes clear the significant and detrimental impact this order will have on thousands of innocent people, especially people housed in refugee camps across the world who have waited months, and sometimes years, for immigration interviews that have now been canceled. Furthermore, President Trump’s edict bars from entry travelers en route to the United States with valid visas or other pertinent documentation, especially students and academic colleagues, the very life-blood of our scholarly communities.
The ASE represents teachers and researchers who study and teach Indigenous histories; essential to our endeavor are on-going interactions with foreign colleagues and access to archives and conferences overseas. The executive order threatens global scholarly networks that our members have cultivated over decades. By establishing a religious test that favors Christians over Muslims from designated countries, this action jeopardizes the open exchange of ideas upon which all scholarship ultimately depends. It directly affects thousands of individuals currently studying in our universities and colleges, detracts from our ability to attract international students in the future, and undermines our ability to incorporate foreign born scholars in research activities of the utmost scientific caliber.
The ASE draws on the long standing Indigenous tradition of reaching out to people throughout the world who need our help and support. During the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s, more than a million people perished in Ireland when a blight decimated potato crops, the primary food source for almost half their population. The impoverished Choctaw Nation, shortly after being removed from their homelands and forced to walk the Trail Of Tears, scraped together $170 to send to Ireland to help feed starving people. Just when the Irish thought nobody cared, Native people from across the world reached out to lend a helping hand. A sculpture recently erected in Cork, Ireland pays tribute to the generosity of the Native American Choctaw. The ASE represents the global hand of friendship that reaches out to those refugees who are being thoughtlessly turned away by Trump’s executive order.
Sadly, President Trump issued his order on Holocaust Remembrance Day, when all Americans vividly recall the implications of such actions. America’s refusal to admit refugees during the 1930s denied entry to Jews and others fleeing Nazi Germany. Hostility toward a particular religious group combined with suspicions of disloyalty and potential subversion by supposed radicals slammed shut the door on millions of refugees. Many were subsequently murdered as part Nazi Germany’s “final solution” to the “Jewish question.” Many today who attempt to flee repressive regimes in the Mideast are condemned to similar fates.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
If we are to honor these words, enshrined on our Statue of Liberty at the entrance to New York harbor, we must ask President Trump to revoke his executive order immediately. We call upon him to respect, and continue, the American and Indigenous traditions of welcoming the oppressed to our caring midst.