This is the first time since moving to America that I have felt terrified. My feelings of hope clash with my feelings of anger and fear.
I fled a civil war, and like thousands of other Syrians in the US, my asylum status here is still “pending.” This means that I have filed my papers, but I might still be rejected. We, as refugees and asylum seekers, have had our share of pain and despair. But we have spent every day since the presidential election wondering if we are now destined to endure much more.
I remember waking up at 3am on Nov. 9, the morning after Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States. I turned on my laptop, read the news, and starting crying. I found I couldn’t stop. It was only by listing every obstacle I had already overcome in America that I was finally able to calm down. Eventually, I went back to sleep, hoping that maybe it had all been one very long nightmare.
Because the thought of losing my home—again—is almost too much to bear.
It’s true that our new president might not be able to do everything he has promised his supporters he would. Maybe he will not implement mass deportations, build huge walls, ban Muslims, and reject refugees. Or maybe he will do some of those things. Or maybe he will do most of them.
Whatever happens, people like me will live in fear for the next four years, if not because of his actual policies, than because of the hatred his rhetoric has already ignited. Fueled by lies and emboldened by a newfound feeling of entitlement, these men and women believe that people like me are only here to destroy their country and somehow make it less great. The most passionate are already taking matters into their own hands—in the past week, dozens, maybe hundreds, of hate crimes have been reported.
If my asylum application is rejected, I will have to leave everything that I have been working so hard to build. I will be forced to start all over again somewhere else. Do not ask me where that somewhere else would be.
It won’t be the first time my life has been uprooted completely. In 2014, I arrived in New York City on a student visa, with nothing but a blue bag and the determination to “make it.” Making it after witnessing a civil war means you don’t even have time to grieve. There is no time to think about what—or who—you have lost; you can only pull yourself together and be grateful that you are still alive with a valid passport.
And so, I try to remind myself that I am lucky. But I honestly don’t know if I have the energy to go through such an experience again.
Although it feels ridiculous to have to keep saying this in America, the land of immigrants, refugees are not terrorists. Syrians like me are the victims of terror, not the perpetrators. We came to America to escape the inhumanity of Bashar Assad’s regime and the extremist organizations that fight with and against him. Both are architects of mass murder.
Now I am starting to feel the same way I used to in Syria. I am worried what will happen if I publish this essay under my real name. My New York friends are sharing information about iPhone encryption services and anonymous messaging apps—the same strategies I once used to evade Assad’s brutal police forces.
Trump’s new vision for America is not just a problem for Syrian refugees, of course. I am worried for every immigrant, legal and undocumented. I am worried for the people who work long hours for a low wage, because that is their only option. I am worried for the people who were born in a country without opportunity, without a future.
In New York City, I live with two queer women. One of them is black, and her father is an immigrant. She told me how scared she is, not only for her rights as a black queer woman, but also for her father, a selfless, honest man who wished only that his children would grow up to be successful, strong, and independent members of American society. Where once we were an apartment united by our dreams for the future, now we are an apartment united by fear.
Still, there are signs of hope. Thousands of people have taken to my city’s streets in the past few days. Many more stood on the sidewalks and watched the protesters with tears in their eyes. It was a reminder of why I came to this country, and why I still love its people.
No matter what Trump has said on the campaign trail, this country is already great. It is great because of the people who live here—all of them. And we must fight to keep it that way. I will never regret my decision to come to America. And even if I am forced to leave you soon, I will be grateful for every single one of you who helped me along the way.