I am a proud Kentuckian. I am also the proud daughter of immigrants. I grew up with the Bluegrass values of hard work and hospitality — values that have stayed with me as my education and work have taken me around the country and the world.
This upbringing has made it all the more painful to see our state’s leaders lacking the moral leadership to stand up and defend Kentuckians like me against the recent hyperbolic rhetoric surrounding immigration.
Kentucky thrives in part due to the experiences and contributions of its immigrants and refugees. Our leaders should protect Kentucky’s ideals and take a stand against President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration before it further damages the American values of inclusion and refuge.
Immigrants compose 3.4 percent of Kentucky’s population and the commonwealth ranks sixth in the nation for number of refugees resettled per capita. From October 2016 to December 2016 alone, Kentucky admitted 874 refugees.
My family is an example of immigrants contributing to the fabric of our society. My dad is a small-town doctor and my mom is a middle-school teacher, both of whom instilled the importance of giving back to my community, values that inspired me to pursue a career in national security.
This diversity enriches our economy, as well as our society. Immigrant-owned businesses account for 4.6 percent of the more than 90,000 businesses in Kentucky, generating $451 million in income. The purchasing power of Latino immigrants in 2014 totaled $2.8 billion; Asian immigrants were $2.6 billion.
Immigration is also an invaluable asset to education. Last year, Kentucky institutions accepted a total of 8,043 foreign students who contributed an estimated $217 million to the economy.
Finally, the supposed danger posed by refugees and immigrants is vanishingly small. No American has been killed by a refugee in the U.S. since 1980. Between 2001 and 2015, home-grown right-wing terrorism killed twice as many Americans as so-called “Islamist” terrorists did. The likelihood of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack perpetrated by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year. Moreover, of the seven Muslim countries listed in Trump’s executive order, none were the country of origin for any of the 9/11 terrorists.
Refugees and immigrants have only served to enhance what makes America great — our diversity, our inclusion, and our hope for a better tomorrow. I hope that Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul and our representatives speak out against this clear and disturbing violation of our country’s ideals and values.
What poses an existential threat to the U.S. is not refugees, Islam or immigrants; it is the vitriolic hate toward people different from us. When America no longer exemplifies what the Statue of Liberty symbolizes, then America will no longer be great.
Hannah Suh, a Bowling Green native, is program manager of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC.