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Remembering Rizal during Trump’s travel ban

The Trump administration is not the first to order the exclusion of a group of people from entering the United States. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first law to be implemented to bar a certain ethnic group from coming to this country. Although the United States of America was founded and has emerged as a great nation because of the contributions of immigrants and refugees, U.S. history tells us thatthis country has also made unfortunate mistakes of blaming immigrants about the woes suffered by the U.S. As a consequence, policies that restrict immigrants and immigration came about due to strong anti-immigrant attitudes and sentiments that prevailed over truth and reason. There are even incidents of hate crimes due to anti-immigrant sentiments and xenophobia. When President Trump signed the executive order (“EO”) “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” on January 27, 2017, the EO did not only bring fear among Muslims and refugees but to non-Muslims as well because the order had consequences that affected almost everyone who wanted to enter the U.S. Even those who wanted to visit the U.S. as tourists and those who have been in this country for many years as legal permanent residents and naturalized citizens were also alarmed.


The so-called “port of entries” in the international airports as well as those located in our borders again became symbols of America’s closed doors. The EO brought the message that so-called “outsiders” are not “welcome” and that those who dared to proceed will be subjected to interrogations. There was chaos in many U.S. airports after President Trump signed his immigration EO and after the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol started to enforce it. Many travelers were stranded, some were arrested and put-on-hold, and there are those who were rejected outright and deported. The EO also came as a surprise to airport officials who did not fully understand the order and the sudden changes it brought concerning the rules and protocol for people trying to enter the U.S. It was good that concerned citizens reacted quickly to protest, including many immigration lawyers and human rights advocates in the U.S. who rushed to the airports to provide assistance to those who were affected and detained. At this time, there’s an order from the Federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that put a stop on the enforcement of the Trump EO. This was not the case though when Filipino national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, first entered the United States in 1888. No federal appeals court, protesters, and lawyers came to rescue Dr. Rizal and his fellow ship passengers from prejudice after they were detained in San Francisco, California. Rizal’s diaries and letters to his friends and relatives in Laguna about his travel experience in the U.S. showed his brilliance as a political analyst. Rizal was held (“quarantined”) in his ship for six days before he was allowed to disembark. What Rizal saw in 1888 is similar in a way to what we are now witnessing in 2017.


His observation as to why he and his fellow passengers were detained was stated in a letter to his parents--- “Here we are in sight of America since yesterday without being able to disembark, placed in quarantine on account of the 642 Chinese that we have on board coming from Hong Kong where they say smallpox prevails. But the true reason is that, as America is against Chinese immigration and now they are campaigning for the elections, the government, in order to get the vote of the people, must appear to be strict with the Chinese, and we suffer. On board there is not one sick person…” The prejudice and restriction against the Chinese people that Rizal witnessed during his visit in San Francisco is the same prejudice that Muslims and refugees are facing today. Yesterday’s “smallpox” is today’s “terrorism.” Rizal’s sharp mind can help explain how President Trump won the last election. Restrictions against immigration and blaming immigrants get votes. The government must appear to be strict and President Trump succeeded in portraying the past U.S. administration as weak on the issue of immigration. Jojo Liangco is an attorney with the Law Offices of Amancio M. Liangco Jr. in San Francisco, California. His practice is in the areas of immigration, family law, personal injury, civil litigation, business law, bankruptcy, DUI cases, criminal defense and traffic court cases. Please send your comments to Jojo Liangco, c/o Law Offices of Amancio "Jojo" Liangco, 605 Market Street, Suite 605, San Francisco, CA 94105 or you can call him (415) 974-5336.

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