When Ronald Reagan rose to deliver his final speech at the White House, few expected his parting words to be about immigration. After all, his was a presidency defined more by foreign policy than any single domestic issue; more Iron Curtain (or Iran-Contra) than immigration.
Yet when he stepped up to the podium at the State Dining Room—the same one he had spoken before hundreds of times, across times of war and peace—that was precisely the issue on his mind. He explained what he believed was the source behind America’s greatness:
“We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people—our strength—from every country and every corner of the world. And by doing so we continuously renew and enrich our nation. While other countries cling to the stale past, here in America we breathe life into dreams. We create the future, and the world follows us into tomorrow.
“Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we're a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge, always leading the world to the next frontier.”
His message was heard by a young couple in India, who were immediately intoxicated by its promise. And though it would take them a decade to answer its call, they never forgot the allure of the “land of opportunity.” Eventually, they would pack up their lives, and say goodbye to everything and everyone they had ever known to start a new life. Fueled by hope in their hearts—as well as one final meal of chai and chapatis—they took off for a land unknown, with a six-year-old son in tow.
The America they entered would exceed even their wildest dreams. It’s an America that would allow them to open up their own small business, send their children to the country’s best schools, and live a life of relative peace and prosperity. And though it wasn’t always perfect—bigotry knows no bounds—their experiences were largely colored by the kindness of strangers.
But it’s an experience that wouldn’t be possible in Trump’s America. His Administration has declared a war on immigration and limited the pathways that our community depends on, from H-1B to H-4 visas. His mismanagement of a deadly pandemic has decimated the kinds of small businesses that our community is likely to own, and left one in five closed. And the hate he has unleashed has taken on a life of its own; during his presidency, hate crimes against Indian Americans have risen steadily, including by 200% against Sikh Americans.
In actions and in attitude, he has shown that his is an America of exclusion, not inclusion. An America that shuts its doors to the world’s best and brightest, and in so doing, shuts off the U.S.’ greatest competitive advantage. An America that ignores scientists and elevates sycophants. No matter the photo-ops or the last-minute empty praise that Trump bestows upon Indian Americans, the fact of the matter is clear: his rhetoric simply does not match the reality of his actions.
Luckily, there is a better way.
Vice President Biden understands that this pandemic is something to be dealt with—not wished away—which is why he has a clear plan to address COVID-19, including through comprehensive national testing. He realizes that small businesses must play a crucial role in our economic recovery, which is why he would provide them with support to reopen safely. And he recognizes that at our best, America can be—in the words he wrote in India-West this week—a “land of opportunity,” which is why he has a plan to bring both parties together to provide support for working families and build back better.
And he knows that the immigrant’s story is America’s story.
It’s a story our community knows well. It’s the story of nearly 4 million Indian Americans, who have embraced this country and are ascending to its highest levels, from academia to business. It’s the story of a Chennai-born cancer researcher whose daughter is now running for the vice presidency of the United States. And it’s the story of a six-year-old boy who would see his parents’ dreams become his reality.
That unique magic of America to turn dreams into reality—the American Dream—isn’t inevitable. Nobody knew this better than Reagan himself. That January morning in 1989, hours before he would board Air Force One for the last time and trade the chill of Washington for the warmth of Los Angeles, he had one final warning for the country: “This quality [of accepting immigrants] is vital to our future as a nation. If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.”
It’s up to us to protect that national legacy—and keep America the land of opportunity.
San Francisco, California