Opinions among Chinese-Americans about President Donald Trump’s effort to ban the citizens of several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States are typically American – that is, strongly divided.
A revised version of the controversial ban, which will deny entry to citizens from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, is set to come into force on Thursday, provided it clears any further legal challenges.
And with polls showing the US as a whole is separated on the issue by economics, education or political affiliation – a recent Monmouth University poll shows 50 per cent of Americans think Trump should “move on” to other issues – Chinese-Americans find themselves on opposite sides of a generational gap.
Like most of her friends and their families, Jenny Cheung, 40, is a Chinese-American immigrant and fervent supporter of Trump and his push to shut America’s borders to large groups of outsiders.
“We all understand America is a nation of immigrants,” Cheung said. “But it does not necessarily mean we should encourage illegal immigrants to cross the border.”
Cheung, a web app developer living in Braintree, Massachusetts, with her husband and two children, first arrived in the US in 1990 and became an American citizen in 1995 when she was 25 years old.
Her family waited for visa approvals for eight years before leaving Guangdong, China. Her parents were looking for a better future for their family.
Last year, almost 75,000 immigrant visas were issued to mainland-born Chinese citizens, compared to 69,000 refugees arrivals, according to the US Department of Homeland Security’s Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.
“America is not a dumping ground for other countries’ problems,” said Cheung.
Her family, and many others, waited years for their chance at the American dream, so why should others, she argues, be allowed to cut to the front of the queue?
But Jackson Tse, 24, a New York-based Chinese-American consultant, said Trump’s executive order denied entry to America to those who needed it the most.
“We are sentencing innocent people to death and tearing lives apart,” he said. “Banning an entire religion or country based on racist, xenophobic, unfounded stereotypes about Muslims is simply unacceptable.”
Tse, who speaks for many young Americans, said that what Trump, his supporters, and those indulging his actions in Congress are doing is inhumane.
On January 27, Trump signed an executive order that temporarily barred all refugees, indefinitely banned refugees from Syria and forbade the entry of foreign nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries.
With its constitutionality questioned by lawsuits, that ban was halted by the courts, prompting the administration to issue a revised order that exempts Iraq but still denies entry to citizens from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
Cheung and many of her friends are part of the Chinese Americans For Trump (CAFT), an organisation that claims to have about 7,000 members nationwide – most are Chinese-American immigrants over 40 who support Trump’s immigration and refugee policies.
But for much of the younger generation who are already established in the US, Trump’s policy is worrisome. It harks to one of the darkest chapters of American history, when the government sought to exclude all Chinese from America, a ban that lasted for 61 years.
The reaction of Chinese-Americans roughly falls along generational lines, differing mostly between first- and second-generation immigrants, a common occurrence in many immigrant communities.
But for those Chinese who have lived in the US for an even longer time, the ban is eerily reminiscent of several decades when Chinese immigrants were excluded from entering the US.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the subsequent Immigration Act of 1924, were efforts to drive out the Chinese who had become a scapegoat for the economic crisis in the late 19th century.
Later, all arrivals from East Asian and Southeast Asian countries were banned through the Immigration Act of 1917, which was not repealed until 1943 when China became a US ally against the Japanese during the second world war.
Gordon Chang, 68, is a Stanford University professor specialising in Asian-American history and a Hong Kong-born, fourth-generation Chinese-American whose family was directly affected by the Chinese Exclusion Act.
His grandfather entered the US for the last time in 1882, illegally. “He came through Canada and then never left the US because he had no papers,” he said. “He never saw his family in China again.”
Chang, and others with families that suffered under the previous laws, see Trump’s barring of travellers from certain Muslim-majority countries as another thinly veiled, fearful reaction to foreigners, especially those with obvious race and cultural differences, during uncertain times.
According to Chang, Trump’s current ban, like the discriminatory policies of the past, “is playing on and up emotion and is not a rational policy”.
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“These bans were never established against any white countries,” Chang explained. “In fact, during the Cold War, the US welcomed political refugees from communist countries with little fear.”
Trump’s ban puts Chinese-Americans in an unusual situation. Many who call it an attack on religion have family on the mainland where the Beijing government is accused of adopting increasingly repressive policies against Muslims in Xinjiang (新疆).
A crucial part of the problem, Chang said, is that not enough people know history, making it easier for the damaging choices of the past to repeat themselves.
The Chinese government’s portrayal of Uygur communities in Northern China plays an important role in why many feel Muslims are a threat to security.
Critics say Trump’s extreme immigration crackdown on Muslims is an attack on an entire religion to combat a tiny fraction that may pose a terror threat – some Chinese immigrants say his new policy is the same thing Beijing has done for 20 years.
Chang, however, believes the actual number of Chinese in the US who sympathise with China’s “counterterrorism” measures on the Uygurs, or are even aware of their repression, is quite small.
Rather, it is measures being taken in America that evoke a much stronger response.
Lily Luo, 22, a Wellesley College graduate and political activist in Boston, said she was disappointed and heartbroken to see the US pursue this kind of policy.
“My parents immigrated to America from China because they wanted to live in a free and open society with welcoming values.”
“We benefited a lot from the American Dream,” she said, “and part of the meaning of this country is to not shut the door behind you on others after you’ve been given these opportunities.”
It remains to be seen how Trump’s new policy will play out in the courts. It seems certain to face challenges similar to his first attempt.
Critics argue that it still consigns countless refugees to death without any reasonable rationale that it creates any security benefits.
But for Jenny Cheung, Trump is heading in the right direction.
Having an extreme vetting system is “common sense” to her. She is concerned that Islamic State terrorists could disguise themselves as refugees to get into the US, quoting Trump, “like a Trojan horse”.
“Mr Trump is simply looking after his own country and citizens from a security standpoint ... Some people may disagree with his policy, but it does not mean he is racist,” she said. “You can’t always make everybody happy.
“If we do not enforce the current immigration laws, why do we have such laws to begin with?” Cheung asked.