Because guests should never overstay their welcome

(this piece was originally published on Non Disclose, the unofficial student magazine at the Stanford GSB)

In the eyes of many, I am considered an accomplished professional with a promising future. I worked at Google for six years where I negotiated multi-million dollar partnerships in three languages that I am not native in. I am engaged in both humanitarian work and the arts, and I am pursuing an MBA degree at Stanford. Yet President Trump and many Americans have reduced me to a single part of my identity — citizen of one of the predominantly Muslim countries that until recently were subject to travel restrictions.

I was born in Germany but hold Iranian citizenship through my parents. I came to the United States for the same reason my parents left the Middle East: a better life in a country in which I can fully apply my talents. Yet the election of Donald Trump and his immigration policies have made me wonder: why should I stay and contribute to a country where so many do not want me?

Indeed, what I have found remarkable is the similarity to the unstable political climates in the Middle East. Many governments there are known for erratic behavior that leads to paranoia and anxiety — never really knowing if you acted in a way that would make you a target for capricious penalization. The United States had become a refuge in which I always felt protected, but now I face the same uncertainty and agitation.

I was advised not to show up at the airport demonstrations because I am not a citizen and could get detained or even deported. Immigrant friends of mine want to speak publicly of their situations but shy away for fear it might hurt their resident status. Can I even speak up for myself without becoming a target for further discrimination? I don’t know.

Since the executive orders, my friends have shown me much love and support. While this is encouraging, I am regarded as a victim. I always considered myself a fully integrated and contributing member of American society since I moved here in 2011. Sure, I wasn’t a citizen with voting rights, but I paid my taxes and fully embraced American values. I never saw the immigrant label as part of my identity, but suddenly the new administration projects that on me — with a connotation that disregards my contributions.

I am very grateful for all the opportunities this country has provided since I moved here six years ago. I have been living the American Dream, pursuing a life and career beyond my wildest imagination. With my green card I always felt I belonged. But recent weeks have made me wonder. I also think of the 500,000 people from those seven countries who have received green cards in the past decade — how do they feel?

One of the first messages I received from a friend after the executive order was a plea for activism: “Omid, you have to fight against this injustice.” But I am now asking myself what it would mean to stay in a country in which a large number of people support anti-immigration policies. Is it a fight worth fighting, or is it time to raise the white flag? One thing they teach you in the Middle East: guests should never overstay their welcome.

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