We Are All Immigrants!

In the face of administrative orders from the White House that deny entry to the United States to citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries, we feel it is important to reaffirm Wesleyan University’s commitment to its students, faculty and staff, regardless of their country of origin or their religious beliefs.

Wesleyan has welcomed and will continue to welcome students to apply for admission and, if accepted, to enroll regardless of their immigration status. Despite threatening language from the White House, we will continue to treat undocumented students, with or without Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), who apply to Wesleyan identically to any other U.S. citizen or permanent resident in their high school. We are appalled by the religious test that is included in this new immigration order, and we reaffirm that there will be no discrimination on the basis of religion on our campus.

Our international programs, our financial aid policies and employment programs comply with all applicable Federal and State laws. However, we will object to and oppose administrative dictates that violate the law and the Constitution and, if necessary, we will work with others to do so in court.

Our Public Safety Officers do not inquire about the immigration status of the members of the Wesleyan community, and they will not do so in the future. Except where we are required to do so by law, we intend to protect our ability to refuse to partner or assist ICE or law enforcement on questions concerning purely immigration status matters. In particular, we are committed to the privacy of all student information, including immigration status.

Since our very beginnings, our country has been immeasurably strengthened by immigrants. Turning our backs on those in need today is worse than heartless. Since the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, discrimination on the basis of national origin has been illegal. The idea of a religious test for immigrants from some parts of the world is reprehensible, and we believe it to be unconstitutional. These are matters that will be resolved in the courts. Meanwhile, Wesleyan University will remain steadfast in our commitment to treat immigrants and refugees with the dignity and respect they deserve. This is what we mean when we say we are a Sanctuary Campus.

Wesleyan is an institution of open-minded inquiry and education, and as such we refuse bigotry and demagoguery. As I’ve written before, “being horrified is not enough.” We must take our revulsion against the politics of fear and scapegoating, and turn it into efforts to create inclusive communities that celebrate diversity while building compassionate solidarity.

14 thoughts on “We Are All Immigrants!”

  1. Fully support Wesleyan in efforts of full inclusion and compassion for all. Be careful with the “we are all immigrants” moniker, however. I am a 1989 Wes grad and Native American (enrolled Eastern Band Cherokee on paternal side and descendant of Turtle Mountain Band Chippewa on maternal side). Natives are indigenous.

  2. Glad to see that Michael Roth, on behalf of Wes, has taken a public stance on Trump’s outrageous and blatantly racist new immigration policy. Thank you. But all of us in the Wesleyan community and beyond need to address this injustice with our elected representatives, and take our protests to airports and the streets as so many have done since yesterday morning. Many of us have been horrified by this new administration’s attempts to curb civil liberties and the free press, so it is time to fight back in order to save democracy as we have come to know it, no matter how imperfect it may have seemed just 10 days ago.

  3. I love this! I am so proud to be a Wes alum. But “we are all immigrants” does diminish the struggle of Americans who did not immigrate here and I think another headline may be more apt.

  4. On Friday, President Donald Trump issued an executive order calling for heightened vetting of certain foreign nationals seeking entry into the United States. The order temporarily suspends entry by the nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. It is to last for 90 days, while heightened vetting procedures are developed.
    The order has predictably prompted intense protest from critics of immigration restrictions (most of whom are also critics of Trump). At the New York Times, the Cato Institute’s David J. Bier claims the temporary suspension is illegal because, in his view, it flouts the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This contention is meritless, both constitutionally and as a matter of statutory law.

    Let’s start with the Constitution, which vests all executive power in the president. Under the Constitution, as Thomas Jefferson wrote shortly after its adoption, “the transaction of business with foreign nations is Executive altogether. It belongs then to the head of that department, except as to such portions of it as are specifically submitted to the Senate. Exceptions are to be construed strictly.”

    The rare exceptions Jefferson had in mind, obviously, were such matters as the approval of treaties, which Article II expressly vests in the Senate. There are also other textual bases for a congressional role in foreign affairs, such as Congress’s power over international commerce, to declare war, and to establish the qualifications for the naturalization of citizens. That said, when Congress legislates in this realm, it must do so mindful of what the Supreme Court, in United States v. Curtiss-Wright (1936), famously described as “the very delicate, plenary and exclusive power of the President as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations – a power which does not require as a basis for its exercise an act of Congress.”

    In the international arena, then, if there is arguable conflict between a presidential policy and a congressional statute, the president’s policy will take precedence in the absence of some clear constitutional commitment of the subject matter to legislative resolution. And quite apart from the president’s presumptive supremacy in foreign affairs, we must also adhere to a settled doctrine of constitutional law: Where it is possible, congressional statutes should be construed in a manner that avoids constitutional conflicts.

    With that as background, let’s consider the claimed conflict between the president’s executive order and Congress’s statute. Mr. Bier asserts that Trump may not suspend the issuance of visas to nationals of specific countries because the 1965 immigration act “banned all discrimination against immigrants on the basis of national origin.” And, indeed, a section of that act, now codified in Section 1152(a) of Title 8, U.S. Code, states that (with exceptions not here relevant) “no person shall receive any preference or priority or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence” (emphasis added).

    Even on its face, this provision is not as clearly in conflict with Trump’s executive order as Bier suggests. As he correctly points out, the purpose of the anti-discrimination provision (signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965) was to end the racially and ethnically discriminatory “national origins” immigration practice that was skewed in favor of Western Europe. Trump’s executive order, to the contrary, is in no way an effort to affect the racial or ethnic composition of the nation or its incoming immigrants. The directive is an effort to protect national security from a terrorist threat, which, as we shall see, Congress itself has found to have roots in specified Muslim-majority countries.

    Because of the national-security distinction between Trump’s 2017 order and Congress’s 1965 objective, it is not necessary to construe them as contradictory, and principles of constitutional interpretation counsel against doing so.

    Nevertheless, let’s concede for argument’s sake that there is conflict. At issue is a matter related to the conduct of foreign affairs – a matter of the highest order of importance since it involves foreign threats to national security. If there were a conflict here, the president’s clear constitutional authority to protect the United States would take precedence over Congress’s dubious authority to limit the president’s denial of entry to foreign nationals.

    But there is no conflict.

    Federal immigration law also includes Section 1182(f), which states: “Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate” (emphasis added).

    Section 1182(f) plainly and sweepingly authorizes the president to issue temporary bans on the entry of classes of aliens for national-security purposes. This is precisely what President Trump has done. In fact, in doing so, he expressly cites Section 1182(f), and his executive order tracks the language of the statute (finding the entry of aliens from these countries at this time “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States”).

    While Bier ignores the president’s constitutional foreign-affairs authority (although Trump expressly relies on it in the first line of his executive order), he concedes that Trump is relying on a statute. He theorizes, nevertheless, that because Section 1182(f) was enacted in 1952, whereas the non-discrimination provision (Section 1152(a)) was enacted years afterward, the latter must be deemed to have amended the former – thus removing the president’s authority to impose class restrictions based on the aliens’ country of origin.

    Nice try.

    Put aside that Trump is principally relying on his inherent constitutional authority, and that the class restriction he has directed is based on national-security, not racial or ethnic considerations. Trump’s executive order also expressly relies on an Obama-era provision of the immigration law, Section 1187(a)(12), which governs the Visa Waiver Program. This statute empowers the executive branch to waive the documentation requirements for certain aliens. In it, Congress itself expressly discriminates based on country of origin.

    Under this provision, Congress provides that an alien is eligible for the waiver only if he or she has not been present (a) in Iraq or Syria any time after March 1, 2011; (b) in any country whose government is designated by the State Department as “repeatedly provid[ing] support for acts of international terrorism”; or (c) in any country that has been designated by the Department of Homeland Security as a country “of concern.”

    So, not only has Congress never repealed the president’s sweeping statutory power to exclude classes of aliens from entry on national-security grounds; decades after the 1965 anti-discrimination provision touted by Bier, Congress expressly authorized discrimination on the basis of national origin when concerns over international terrorism are involved. Consequently, by Bier’s own logic, the 1965 statute must be deemed amended by the much more recent statute.

    Bier concedes that, despite the 1965 anti-discrimination statute, President Jimmy Carter barred entry by Iranian nationals in 1980, after the Khomeini revolution led to the U.S.-hostage crisis. But he treats Carter’s restriction based on national origin as an aberration. Instead, he insists, we should place more stock in the federal courts’ affirmation of the 1965 anti-discrimination provision during the 1990s — specifically, in a litigation involving an alien from Vietnam who had fled to Hong Kong and objected to being required to return to Vietnam to apply for a visa when applicants from other countries faced no such requirement.

    But there is no inconsistency here. Bier perceives one only by overlooking the salient national-security distinction. The discriminatory treatment of Iranians was rationally rooted in anti-terrorism concerns, and was clearly proper. The discriminatory treatment of the Vietnamese alien was unrelated to national security or terrorism, and thus problematic. Trump, like Carter, is quite properly acting on national-security concerns.

    One can debate the policy wisdom of the executive order, which is plainly a temporary measure while a more comprehensive and thoughtfully tailored policy is developed. The seven countries the president has singled out are surely hotbeds of radical Islam; but he has omitted other countries – e.g., Saudi Arabia, home to 15 of the 19 suicide-hijackers who attacked our country on 9/11 – that are also cauldrons of jihadism.

    Furthermore, as I have argued, the real threat to be targeted is sharia-supremacist ideology, which is inherently hostile to the Constitution. Were we to focus our vetting, unapologetically, on that ideology (also known as “radical” or “political” Islam), it would be unnecessary to implement a categorical ban on Muslims or immigrants from majority-Muslim countries. That is critical because non-Islamist Muslims who can demonstrate loyalty to our constitutional principles should not be barred from admission; while Islamists, on the other hand, are not found only in Muslim-majority countries – other things being equal, a sharia supremacist from the banlieues of Paris poses as much of a threat as a sharia supremacist from Raqqa.

    Yet, all that can be debated as we go forward. For now, there is no doubt that the executive order temporarily banning entry from specified Muslim-majority countries is both well within President Trump’s constitutional authority and consistent with statutory law.

  5. Every time anyone talks about the hazards, dangers, or costs of all our illegal immigrants, one of the “open borders” crowd can be counted on to leap up and shout, “But we’re a nation of immigrants.” Assuming it’s meant to be taken seriously, this retort seem to be saying, “Immigration built the US so we should keep on allowing illegals to come here.”

    They forget that until recently, there was no such thing as the tidal waves of illegal immigration we’re seeing today; it simply wasn’t permitted. Without really meaning to, the New York Times documented the stark, unbridgeable chasm between how the successful immigration of the past worked and the de facto open borders policy we have today.

    Their article discussed the upcoming sale of $190 million worth of artifacts salvaged from the Titanic wreck. When the ship broke apart, the heavy, streamlined bow plunged rapidly to the bottom while lighter items such as hats, gloves, boots, and other clothing floated down more slowly.

    The mile-deep water is utterly dark and very cold. Even though the water isn’t frozen, the environment at the bottom is so cold that many garments are preserved well enough to be worn today.

    And there, in the lightless saline netherworld, a vest, a trilby hat, a pair of laced boots, a belted valise and an alligator bag (along with a huge range of artifacts) lay scattered across a broad apron of remnants.

    The Times went into detail about Marion Meanwell’s alligator bag.

    First chartered to sail on the liner Majestic, Mrs. Meanwell rebooked on the Titanic after that vessel was removed from regular service. Tucked into her handbag were a number of documents, among them a letter from the London landlords Wheeler Sons & Co.

    This innocuous note, stating blandly that “we have always found Meanwell a good tenant and prompt in payment of her rent,” carried an extra freight of meaning for an immigrant hoping to build a new life.

    “If you were coming over without credentials or with no prospect of work,” Mr. Davenport-Hines [author of “Voyagers of the Titanic: Passengers, Sailors, Shipbuilders, Aristocrats, and the Worlds They Came From,”] said, it was not uncommon for examiners at Ellis Island to refuse entry to new arrivals and to send them home as “vagrants or tramps.” [emphasis added]

    Knowing that the American authorities wouldn’t admit her unless she could prove that she was a person of good character, the widowed Mrs. Meanwell carried her parents’ marriage license, her own marriage certificate, and the letter of recommendation from her landlord. She was far from being one of those “undocumented Democrats” so beloved of Mr. Obama; she was careful to bring along written proof of her status as a worthy citizen who intended to leave her past behind and assimilate herself into America.

    Yes, it’s entirely true that we’re a nation of immigrants, but this nation was built by legal immigrants who were well aware that they could be turned aside at the border. America is a nation built by immigrants, but the immigrants who built America were legal immigrants who intended to stay and contribute to their new country.

    There’s all the difference in the world between someone who collects all possible documentation to prove their worth, and someone who sneaks across only to take advantage of us with the intent of returning after ripping us off.

    Unfortunately, our ruling party sees so much advantage in persuading illegals to vote that they’re suing states that try to require proof of citizenship before voting.

    How ironic! The Times is as open-border as any paper could be, but in their enthusiasm to write a vivid human-interest story, they showed why immigration was so successful in the past – we were choosy about whom we let in.

  6. We must also remember that there are legal and illegal immigrants. Several of my students who went through the tortuous process of becoming citizens were the most dismayed by the open borders that exist. The process of becoming a citizen should be expedited, to be sure. Letting anyone in does a disservice to those who have followed the proper route.

  7. Using the office you hold as an unremitting forum for extreme left wing premeditated ideology is a disgrace to the University and all educational institutions. If you abused any other office, e.g. an Inspector General at a Federal Agency, or any entity that receives public funding as Wesleyan does (Pell Grants, direct Title IX funding, etc.)you would be terminated. You are also an embarrassment to the longstanding profession of history professors since you constantly skew and revise events to conform to your ideology. Feel free to do all of the above as a private citizen but not behind the imprimatur of Wesleyan. Your retweets are equally one sided leftist propaganda and it appears that you never make any attempt to engage in true discourse. Mr. Wheel, you may have squeaked one too many times, requiring replacement of the wheel. A fish rots from the head down and your words have unforeseen consequences on a highly impressionable group of students who haven’t lived long enough to see through your distortions and failed ideology.

  8. andrew mccarthy Love your comment. Love the president. Illegal immigrants are NOT legal, and we pay and pay and pay for them. Legal immigrants become Americans. Anything less is not American.

  9. “Wesleyan is an institution of open-minded inquiry and education, and as such we refuse bigotry and demagoguery. As I’ve written before, “being horrified is not enough.” We must take our revulsion against the politics of fear and scapegoating, and turn it into efforts to create inclusive communities that celebrate diversity while building compassionate solidarity.”

    It is nice to sit behind the ivory tower of pomposity, completely shielded from liberal rioters claiming to promote diversity and compassion. Certainly diversity and compassion are the standards of a civilized society, and neither the right nor the left would disagree. What is disagreeable is to NOW elevate the diatribe against the “politics of fear and scapegoating” when all the while it also existed during the Obama Administration, and is still existent among movements such as BLM. It’s when you are offended that you speak up, but when that offense of fear and scapegoating was/is perpetuated against those whom you disagreed, you remained silent. I suspect that much of President Trump’s rise was due to a literally silent group who tired of being shouted down and demonized for holding views contrary to liberals. I’d love to hear a strong call for restraint and civility towards those who support the current administration. That I’ve never heard coming from Mr. Roth. Perhaps if the liberal left stopped demonizing and slamming those opposed to their views, there could be an open and honest dialogue. However I see nothing of that in Mr. Roth’s writings.

  10. Dear Mr. Roth,

    With awe and amazement I have followed your fascinating courses on the Modern and Postmodern, and now I admire your uncompromising clear stand for the open society that does not only reject the discrimination act of your new government, but takes an active position fighting the injust attitude by clearly stating that “being horrified” is not enough. I fully support your step that should be an example for the entire academic society in your country.

    Best regards,
    R. Passchier
    The Netherlands

  11. Thank you Prof. Roth for reiterating the credos of an institution of higher learning. These are times of epic cynicism, demagogues are going for glory, dreams of a seamlessly globalized world are gone for darning. It is also the time when institutions of learning should stand up to remind embezzlers of power that modern world was created through Travel, mutual inquiries, exchange, and investment in common human endeavors for common human gains. Let the learning flow.

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