We can only say one thing about 2017: What a year.
Before we go over what went wrong with this year, let’s take a look at some of the positive things that have happened locally. Life in Buffalo and Erie County continues to improve, thanks to large, and ever-increasing investment in infrastructure and business. Last month, voters expressed their continued confidence in Mayor Byron Brown by reelecting him. Long-neglected parts of the city, especially on the East Side, are getting a well-deserved facelift with help from city government and the people who live in these communities. And, at least until recently, even the Bills were looking forward to dominate the AFC East.
Day-to-day life in Buffalo belies what’s happening nationally, however. Next month marks the first full year of the Trump presidency. The Trump administration has proven nothing but corrupt and have threatened not only to undermine our democracy, but a solid belief in facts. But cataloging all of the administration’s misdeeds in 2017 isn’t the purpose of this article. Instead, it’s to discuss what it’s doing to the refugees and immigrants who live in this country and even locally in Buffalo.
And let’s not equivocate: The Trump administration has gone beyond antipathy for the U.S.’s foreign born and minority population and has shifted to full-on racism. It has placed dangerous and unqualified white supremacists like Steven Bannon and Stephen Miller in powerful, influential positions. President Trump—often wrongly—blame Muslims and Latinos for violence while giving a pass to the much greater threat of home-grown terrorism from white supremacists. What were once anti-immigrant dog whistles during the campaign are now a battle cry.
And let’s not equivocate: The Trump administration has gone beyond antipathy for the U.S.’s foreign born and minority population and has shifted to full-on racism. What were once anti-immigrant dog whistles during the campaign are now a battle cry.
Regarding its policies, the Trump administration has gone out its way to carry them out with the maximum amount of cruelty. After the White House enacted an initial Travel Ban earlier this year, it wasn’t a shock that it targeted Muslim-majority countries—Trump promised a full ban on Muslims while on the campaign trail—but its treatment of those legally here or were set to be was. Green card holders were tricked into signing their residency permits away; already-vetted refugees and asylum recipients—including those from Iraq and Afghanistan who faced death after they worked with the U.S. military—who were granted entry into the U.S. were turned away; and arbitrary entry restrictions on the type of people who could visit kept scientists from conferences, and grandparents from seeing their grandchildren. The Trump administration justified the ban by claiming an elevated risk of terrorism, but it’s clear that race and religion were the primacy motivators.
Both the Bush and Obama administration understood that returning these refugees—and their American-born children— would mean sending them back to terrible and often dangerous conditions that, to this day, have barely improved. Nevertheless, the Trump administration made it a priority to deport them en masse.
Let’s also not forget the nearly 800,000 DACA (“Dreamers”) recipients who were told, out of the blue, that their status would end. Most have been here since childhood and are people with jobs, homes, and, often, American-born children. We also have the 325,000 Temporary Protected Status recipients, mostly from Haiti, Honduras, and El Salvador, who now have to leave the country after living here for years, sometimes decades. Both the Bush and Obama administration understood that returning these refugees—and their American-born children— would mean sending them back to terrible and often dangerous conditions that, to this day, have barely improved. Nevertheless, the Trump administration made it a priority to deport them en masse.
Here in Buffalo, the administration’s actions risk short-term and long-term damage to Buffalo’s vibrancy and economy. The new caps in refugee admissions have led to funding issues at local resettlement agencies who have already cut programs and reduced staff. While the businesses and shops of the West Side Bazaar will still be around, we can expect to see less of them elsewhere in the city. Local colleges, especially UB, will lose out on nurturing scholars and entrepreneurs from overseas as the U.S. becomes an undesirable place to study due to its hostility to foreigners. And if we’re to talk in cold, financial terms, the city will lose out a future tax base—while Buffalo has reversed its population decline, it’s largely due to the population of newcomers. We can thank local and outside investment for improving the city, but this type of funding only happens if there’s a population able to provide a return on it in the future.
America appears poised to reject Trumpism and make it clear that what the administration is doing isn’t what we stand for at all.
It’s not hopeless, however. Nationally, the anger that got millions to take the streets last January hasn’t subsided as many feared. If anything, the protests seem better organized, larger, and more effective. In special elections, red states and districts throughout the country have turned blue due to anti-Trump fervor. Most importantly, the 2018 election is set to have one of the largest voter participation rates ever. America appears poised to reject Trumpism and make it clear that what the administration is doing isn’t what we stand for at all.
And locally, we expect Buffalo to continue standing up for their neighbors and welcoming newcomers because it’s the right thing to do. Nothing has happened yet that will keep former refugees like Nadeen Yousef and Gabriel Shalamba, both past Buffalonians of the Week, from opening up a store or from improving the lives of newcomers. Since President Trump took office, Mayor Brown’s administration has only doubled down on its commitment to make Buffalo a welcoming place, a stance that has gotten the city national recognition. While 2018 may yet prove to be an even more disastrous year than 2017, Buffalo will continue to stand as an example of openness and trust.