Posted by Nicole Khamis on June 03, 2015 in Blog

This week kicked off the Immigrant Heritage Month on Capitol Hill, an annual celebration started in 2014 by Dedicated to celebrating the United States as a country built by immigrants from around the world, Immigrant Heritage Month encourages Americans to tell the story of how they were first welcomed to the United States, and recognizes community leaders who are making America more welcoming to its new neighbors.

Among the esteemed speakers was Congressman Richard Boyle (D-PA), who began his speech joking that Immigrant Heritage Month should be called ‘American Heritage Month’, stating that it was impossible to “divorce the immigration experience from the American experience.”

Arab American Congressman Richard Hanna (R-NY) spoke about his parent’s experience as Lebanese immigrants. His inspiring message captured how the diversity of the United States is at the core of what makes American unique.

AAI President Jim Zogby emphasized that Immigrant Heritage Month is important because it actively combats intolerance across the U.S.. A son of Immigrants, he told the story of his father’s inability to attain a visa despite years of effort. He shared the striking reality that his father’s naturalization papers hang next to his Presidential Appointment Parchment on his office wall. The dichotomy is a visual reminder of the hope latent in the American Dream – that in a single generation, immigrants can go from undocumented foreigners to government decision makers.

At the event, other members of Congress emphasized the urgency of comprehensive immigration reform, recognizing the legitimate grievances of the various ethnic groups in the room who are working to overhaul the nation’s broken system. The failure of Congress to pass Immigration reform, prompted President Barack Obama to take executive action last year (now halted by a federal court), calling for immigration reform that are consistent with the values on which the country was founded.

Immigration reform is of special interest to Arab Americans, who are deeply affected by policies born out of the 9/11 era, which unjustly target Arab countries and emigrants for exclusion. Programs such as the Department of Homeland Security's 287 (g) have incentivized profiling, and have sown seeds of mistrust between Arab Americans and law enforcement. These policies are examples of Arab American civil rights being violated at the expense of national security.

America was – and continues to be - built by generations of immigrants. The country that owes so much to immigrants should pave the path with a just immigration policy to ensure new generations can continue to contribute to the rich mosaic of cultures that constitute the United States.

The Arab American Institute is joining the celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month by honoring extraordinary Arab American immigrants who have contributed to every facet of American life with its Together We Came series.

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