During an Illinois senatorial debate last week, incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk (R–Ill.) disparaged House Representative Tammy Duckworth (D–Ill.) as she discussed her family’s service in the American Revolutionary War and her general perspective of American military interventions abroad. Kirk replied to her remarks by saying, “I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.”
Duckworth, a veteran who lost her legs after her helicopter was shot down in Iraq in 2004, is a genealogical descendent of proponents for American independence through her father,
who is a veteran of the Vietnam War. She is also a Bangkok-born daughter of an immigrant from Thailand. What Kirk said not only smeared Duckworth, but also blatantly disrespected both the value of service members in the United States and the important contributions immigrants make in our society.
From this incident, students should not only be reminded to respect working through the differences between members in our community, but also the value of bringing people of different backgrounds and creeds together in a single campus. In a community as pluralistic and diverse as Georgetown’s, so many of our students, faculty and staff belong to a rich amalgamation of different nations, histories and creeds, coming from both long American lineages and first-generation families.
The impact immigrants have had in the formation of this country is undeniable, with their ancestors having laid the foundation for modern-day America in the form of this country’s original revolutionary ideals and first immigrants: colonizers and puritans in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the modern day, according to the National Academy of Sciences in 2013, over 28 percent of all immigrants arrived in the United States with at least a bachelor’s degree. Between 2003 and 2013, 86 percent of foreign-born men were employed, compared to 82 percent of native-born men in the labor force.
Even within our gates, immigrants, descendeants of immigrants and those from other countries contribute daily to Georgetown. Such individuals are professors, staff members, student leaders and chaplains. Our community is an example of how communities can be made stronger and more vibrant with people from varying backgrounds. Even so, there still exists a tangible anti-immigrant sentiment beyond our gates. A Pew Research Center poll from 2015 found that at least 34 percent of Americans believe immigration does not benefit the country in the long run. Fifty percent also claimed that immigrants commit crime and weaken the domestic economy.
Contrary to stereotypes prevalent in today’s media, the same report found that immigrants are actually some of the least criminal individuals in the United States, while individuals born in the United States are nearly five times as likely to commit crimes as immigrants.
The facts simply do not match up with the narrative of anti-immigrant sentiment that currently exists in this country. Yet Kirk’s remarks during the debate went beyond disdain for immigrants. He belittled Duckworth’s military service to this country, and the service of so many others, by bringing up immigrant heritage as a probable cause for criticism.
Duckworth is a decorated veteran, receiving two Purple Hearts for her service in Iraq. She is just one example of what immigrant families can bring to the country. Another example of valuable contributions from an immigrant comes from a man who has received much attention this year, deceased Army Capt. Humayun Khan, the son of Pakistani parents and a man who sacrificed his life to save members of his platoon when he confronted a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2004.
Khan’s and Duckworth’s stories — and the stories of so many other service members and immigrants alike — should teach us how one’s service to this country should not be viewed through the lens of your country of birth. Recognition should simply be based on the service itself, something Kirk failed to understand with his remarks.
On campus, honoring the stories and backgrounds of one another brings us a step closer to respecting the role immigrants play in all our lives, as well as in the success of this country. This respect is something we as a campus need to understand and seek to perpetuate on a daily basis.