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The Rutgers University-Newark/NJIT Federated History Department joins our professional society, the American Historical Association, in condemning President Donald Trump’s executive order allegedly “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States,” which is, in effect, a Muslim ban.
As historians, we cannot predict the future, though it is abundantly clear this order will not make for a safer nation or world. Instead, our expertise is the past, and here we can speak with knowledge and authority in declaring that this order joins a shameful legacy of racially motivated exclusions. From the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act that first codified racialized nativism in the U.S., to the Immigration Act of 1924 that targeted Asians, Africans, Arabs, and Eastern European Jews and Catholics, we recognize the birth of immigration restrictions as inherently linked to a backlash against precisely the diversity that makes Rutgers-Newark and NJIT great.
As well, we must learn from past failures such as the United States’ refusal to admit refugees in the 1930s, as Jews and other targeted groups fled Nazi genocide. This was a tragic mistake. The U.S. could have prevented much suffering and death then, and it stands now at a similar crisis. This is in addition to the fundamentally positive role that refugees and immigrants, including Muslims from many areas of the world, have played in shaping American history, society, and culture, and in realizing America’s best ideals. Any policy that involves the negative stereotyping of particular ethnic, religious, or national groups is thus not only discriminatory but also at odds with history. As faculty and staff, we certainly benefit from the diversity of our students, and appreciate the varied traditions you bring to our classrooms.
Immigration and the global situation of refugees are complicated issues. They require nuanced responses. Trump’s simplistic executive order – motivated by opportunistic fear-mongering, a lack of historical understanding, and a failure to recognize the importance of immigration and Muslims to the American experience – is not that. It has already affected our students, our colleagues, our Muslim, Latinx, and other friends and family, and our global community, for the worse. We encourage everyone to study history, and we want our students to know that we oppose these actions, and we are here for you.
AHA statement in full: