By Alexander Assefa
Since our founding, the United States has served as a beacon of hope for people who are unable to return to their countries of origin due to fear of persecution, economic deprivation, war, and other life-threatening situations. Over the centuries, those who have chosen to call our country home brought with them their talents and aspirations, reinvigorating America’s pioneering spirit in each successive generation. Indeed, despite the bleaker moments in our past, we have always managed to get back on track and continue our march toward progress, inclusiveness, and a more perfect union.
I deeply understand those who languish in turmoil and long to some day join this great nation. In the 1990s, I was displaced from my native country of Ethiopia, which at the time was experiencing civil unrest, and fled to neighboring Kenya where I lived for two years as a refugee. In 2000, I was granted permanent residency and resettled in the United States where I had a chance to rebuild my life. Since then this country has been incredibly generous and it’s provided me with opportunities I could have never gotten in my homeland. In the past 19 year, I learned English, obtained a pilot’s license and university education, became a naturalized citizen, and started a thriving trucking business. And throughout this journey, I have always done my part to give back to society through volunteer work, especially in the African immigrant and refugee communities, helping newcomers find jobs and get engaged in the democratic process.
It’s easy to take the rights we have in this country for granted. Having lived through the epoch-making presidency of Barack Obama, which had seemed impossible up until his election, I, like many other Americans, thought we had turned a page in our history. Then, in 2016, the current occupant of the White House was elected, even after running a campaign fueled by xenophobia and divisiveness. Within days of taking office, he immediately began taking steps to reverse decades of progressive advancements. It soon became clear that the only way to push back against this hostile agenda was for us to mobilize for the midterm elections.
In 2018, I became the first African immigrant to serve in the Nevada State Legislature. While I had never imagined having such a role when I arrived in this country, I am now using this opportunity to empower my district and help build bridges among immigrants and communities of color. It is truly the most humbling and rewarding experience of my life.
This year, local communities across the country must gear up once again to make our voices heard. The Trump administration has announced its intention to include a question concerning citizenship on the 2020 Census, a tactic plainly designed to discourage immigrant households from participating in the census count. Immigrants comprise nearly 20 percent of Nevada’s population, and undercounting them would have a devastating impact on our state. This could mean less federal funding, underrepresentation in Congress, and an unfair allocation of Electoral College votes for the next decade.
The stakes are high and we have no time to waste. That is why Nevadans are organizing at the state level. On April 1, 2019, Governor Steve Sisolak signed an executive order to create the Nevada Census 2020 Complete Count Committee, which is tasked with recommending policies that would enable an accurate count, especially among immigrant and other hard-to-count populations. Additionally, I joined my colleagues in the Legislature in sponsoring Assembly Joint Resolution 6, which urges Congress to prevent the United States Census Bureau from adding a citizenship question. These actions coincide with numerous lawsuits which have been filed throughout the country to stop the administration from its plan to silence immigrant communities.
Future generations will judge us according to how we responded to the challenges of our time. In the weeks and months ahead, it will be critical for us to stand together and resist any attempts to dilute our representation. It’s time for us to mobilize and get our country back on a steady, progressive trajectory.