Sarah Ivory: Welcoming newcomers is what makes America exceptional

(Marco Ugarte | AP file photo) Migrants wait to be taken to the U.S. border to apply for asylum, at the AMAR migrant shelter in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Asylum-seekers grappled to understand what a new U.S. policy that all but eliminates refugee claims by Central Americans and many others meant for their bids to find a better life in America amid a chaos of rumors, confusion and fear.

Despite all of its pitfalls, I believe in American exceptionalism.

We are a nation founded not along boundaries and ethnic lines, but on ideals. It is this, more than anything, that makes us exceptional. Throughout history our diversity — of people, of ideas, of cultures, of geography — has been our greatest strength. Our nation has been moved forward at every turn by people who have left what they know in order to create a better future in this country.

The story of migration for the United States is inextricably bound to our story of progress. The choices we make today about how we treat our nation’s newest members could change the course of our history.

There are many sound logical arguments to make in favor of policies that make immigration to this nation more accessible and fair. It is not just a matter of opinion. We know for a fact that immigrants strengthen our economy, contribute to innovation and job growth and integrate successfully into our communities.

We also know that specific types of immigration, such as the U.S. Refugee Resettlement program that the current administration is working so hard to dismantle, not only allow us to live up to our nation’s values, but play an important role in national security. In fact, one of the strongest defenders of the resettlement program is our Department of Defense who know that upholding our commitments to those overseas who risk their lives to protect our troops is both a moral imperative and an issue of grave security for our military.

At this current time in history however, facts are struggling to retain relevance. When we cannot agree on whether or not tearing young children from their parents and imprisoning them as punishment for fleeing violence is a good or bad thing, we are at a deep moral crossroads. The future of our nation will be shaped by how we respond today.

In the many years that I have worked with refugees and immigrants, I have seen both triumphs and challenges. I have been shown boundless kindness and understanding. I have witnessed unimaginable feats of self-determination and resilience. Above all, though, I have seen in new migrants a dedication to this country, and a faith in its potential, that I have found no where else.

Regardless of the path they take, migrants come to the U.S. in search of what we all want — a chance to build a good life and a better future. They come believing that in America, their lives will not be bound by circumstance. Through their sacrifice and determination, they carry forward the torch of the American dream in a way few others can.

Our country is built on the dreams of our newest Americans. If we shut the door to those who believe in us the most, we will lose the very thing that makes us exceptional.

Sarah Ivory

Sarah Ivory, Salt Lake City, is the U.S. president of a nonprofit organization called USAHello, which helps refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants and receiving community thrive with free, high quality information and resources in many languages. The organization recently partnered with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to launch FindHello, an app that connects newcomers to resources in local communities across the country.