It’s not immigrants we should fear

An Afghani, a Pakistani and a Libyan walk into a bar.

No, not really, but each was an Uber driver for me on a recent trip to Seattle. My habit is to chat with my drivers. Obviously, “Where are you from?” is the first question. It is always followed by, “Why did you come to the States?”

One of these drivers served in his country’s military and was an adviser to the United Nations. He is here because his proposal to disarm militias by purchasing arms from warlords at inflated prices using his country’s frozen assets made him a target of the warlords. Another driver was an entrepreneur who had been in the States for almost 30 years and had come for economic opportunity. The third driver worked in the U.S. embassy for seven years in his home country and had earned his way here. The Afghani and the Libyan have applied for political asylum.

Sadly, in Trump world, immigrants are merely rapists and other criminals, and their neighborhoods not only have the highest crime rates, but they also inflict most of the crime in America. His immigration policy, recently delivered to Congress and the public, is to direct resources to victims of crimes committed by immigrants.

During this address, the president failed to mention home-grown terrorists and their hate crimes, which are tracked in America by Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The SPLC’s mission is to teach tolerance, and its goals are to expose potentially violent extremists, use litigation as a means of defunding hate groups, and work with law enforcement to identify and safely deal with hate groups. Their data don’t support the president’s positions about immigrant communities.

The Spring 2017 issue of SPLC’s Intelligence Report categorizes 917 active hate groups in the United States, 26 of which are active in Indiana. Of these, 101 are anti-Muslim, 100 are white nationalist, 130 are Ku Klux Klan and 193 are black nationalist. The remaining categories include neo-Nazi (98), racist Skinhead (78), Christian identity (21), neo-Confederate (43), anti-LGBT (52) and General Hate (100).

Notable recent home-grown terrorist incidents and hate crimes against immigrants include the beating of a 68-year-old Sikh man in Fresno, California; the firebombing of a Somali restaurant in Fargo, North Dakota; a Lummi woman running for office receiving death threats in Lynden, Washington; and three Kansans plotting to “blow up an apartment complex housing more than 100 mostly Somali-born Muslim immigrants and a small mosque.” The three Kansans were thwarted by an FBI infiltrator.

Anecdotally, a contact of my husband’s, whose sister is a public defender in Birmingham, Alabama, relayed 70 percent of the crime she encountered was against immigrants. No doubt, some of it is garden variety and not violent. But considering there are 917 active hate groups in the U.S., and this doesn’t include the ones who only have an online presence, it’s the immigrants who are rightly fearful.

My grandfather came here from Italy in 1914. He didn’t speak English. He settled in Erie, Pennsylvania, because that is where his relations were. This didn’t represent non-assimilation. He went where he had support and could get a job. It’s that simple.

It struck me the Uber immigrants were similar in spirit to my grandfather. They wanted better lives, and they embraced the unknown to make them so. They left behind families, learned new languages, embedded themselves in their new country and make it richer by being here.

America, let’s get real. And by real, I mean truthful. And by truthful, I mean face the facts. Immigrants have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the beautiful melting pot that is our America.

Does America look like it did 100 years ago? No. Will it look 100 years from now as it does today? No. Change is inevitable. Let’s embrace it, not demonize it.

Donna Steele of Greenfield is a member of a variety of community organizations aimed at bettering the city, including Greenfield Main Street and the Greenfield Coalition. Send comments to