Trump travel ban draws parallels to past U.S. immigrant exclusion acts

World Today

U.S. President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban, targeting six Muslim-majority countries, was blocked by federal judges. The Executive Order reminds some of a time when another law restricted immigration into America.

CGTN’s Han Peng visited the largest-and-oldest Immigration History Research Center in the United States. Historians spoke with Han about the digital archive they’re overseeing and its increasing relevance.

Trump travel ban draws parallels to past U.S. immigrant exclusion acts

Trump travel ban draws parallels to past U.S. immigrant exclusion acts

President Trump's revised travel ban reminds some of a time when another law restricted immigration into America. Historians at the Immigration History Research Center believe the digital archive they oversee has become increasingly relevant now.

“So these, these documents are what my family kept with us since we were refugees.”

Saengmany Ratsabout fled the Civil War in Laos at the age of two. His family took him to several countries seeking asylum before they finally settled in the United States.

“What really inspired me to, as of part of me developing the project and making my narratives into a digital story, is these plane tickets,” Saengmany Ratsabout said.

Ratsabout decided to tell his family’s immigration story as a four-minute digital video clip. Ratsabout’s colleague, Elizabeth Venditto, is in charge of the project. Since 2013, her team, at the University of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center, has been collecting stories from immigrants and so far has made over 200 digital stories like Ratsabout’s.

“I think it’s a tool for people to tell their own stories in their own word and not to have people talk about them,” Elizabeth Venditto said. “That often happens in the United States and other countries. People, politicians, people who have some political agenda saying ‘this is what an immigrant is like, this is what happens…’ We say, well, no, here are people telling their own stories.”

Research center Director Erika Lee says since that since Donald Trump’s shock election victory and the introduction of his controversial travel ban, their project is more relevant than ever. Lee is a Chinese American. Her grandparents suffered under the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was in forced between 1882 and 1943. It was the first law that banned a specific ethnic group from immigrating to America and led to discrimination – and even violent attacks – against Chinese. But now she fears it won’t be the last.

“I never expected as a historian to have to stand in front of a classroom and tell my students that in the 21st century we are now seriously proposing laws that are worse than the horrific Chinese exclusion act – an act that we act that we now recognize as one of the darkest chapters in American history,” Erika Lee said.

Using the digital archive, the team hopes to record the human face of Trump’s immigration policies and leave it to future generations to judge.