In the 19th century, Boston was often the last stop on the Underground Railroad.
Now, in the 21st century, it has become the last stop on the Overground Railroad.
Lawyers are advising those who hold visas or green cards and are nationals of the seven countries with predominantly Muslim populations the Trump administration has barred from entering the United States to please come to Boston because they are more likely to avoid being detained or deported.
“Our order is the most expansive order in the country,” said Susan Church, one of the lawyers who persuaded two federal judges in Boston to issue a seven-day temporary restraining order blocking Trump’s action.
It is easy and inviting to suggest the proportion of local outrage over Trump’s action is merely reflective of how little political support he has here. But I think it’s more than that. Boston was settled by people who fled religious persecution. It was a hotbed of revolutionary fervor against tyranny. There is something in our collective DNA that respects someone’s freedom to worship and rejects arbitrary, autocratic decrees.
Boston has suffered at the hands of Islamic terrorists. Two of the planes that hit the Twin Towers on 9/11 took off from Logan Airport. The two brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon settled in Cambridge after seeking asylum in the United States.
But there are a lot of people around here who are skeptical of the efficacy of, and the reasons given for, singling out seven countries while ignoring those from countries whose nationals have murdered Americans on American soil and where Trump has business interests. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who attacked the US on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia, and none were from the seven countries subject to Trump’s order.
The Marathon bombers, whose nomadic family underwent less scrutiny from immigration officials than typical refugees, were radicalized here — and again, were from countries that are not among the seven singled out.
Are we any safer because Samira Asgari, an Iranian citizen, was prevented from boarding a flight in Frankfurt on Saturday to start a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School? She was supposed to join a lab team that could help find a cure for tuberculosis.
Anyone from a country that has a history of terrorism and has a green card or a visa has gone through extensive, elaborate background checks. President Trump says the 120-day ban on all refugees, 90-day ban on those from Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Iran and Yemen, and indefinite ban on Syrians, is needed to allow time to establish something he calls “extreme vetting.” Extreme vetting sounds like “Double Secret Probation,” a vague phrase that can mean anything its user wants it to mean.
Our neighborhoods, our universities, our hospitals and research labs are peopled by those who came from countries where terrorism is a scourge. And most of us understand those people came here to escape that, not spread it.
It is not surprising that Boston’s mayor, Marty Walsh, has been at the forefront of the protests. Cynics note that Walsh is running for reelection and that it’s good politics to beat up Trump in a city that is overwhelmingly anti-Trump.
But that ignores the fact that Walsh is the son of immigrants, that he understands intuitively what it means to leave everything behind and start over in a new country, a new culture.
Walsh also said something that got lost in the cacophony at Logan Airport. He noted that his parents were from Ireland, and that before Irish Catholics became the most numerous, powerful ethnic group in Boston, they were the most loathed. They were stereotyped for the worst behavior of their coreligionists, subjected to personal and institutional discrimination. But given a chance, they were able to assimilate and take advantage of the freedoms and opportunities of this country and rise above the animus directed at them as a group. That’s a lesson some forget, but which still resonates here, stronger than governmental fiat, more resilient than fear.