St. Charles doctor tells patients of Syrian roots, views on immigration

 
By Rany Jazayerli
Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 3/21/2017 9:30 AM
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  • Dr. Rany Jazayerli's parents came to the U.S. from Syria. Recent events prompted him to let his patients know about his heritage.

      Dr. Rany Jazayerli's parents came to the U.S. from Syria. Recent events prompted him to let his patients know about his heritage. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Dr. Rany Jazayerli shows the letter he wrote to his patients after President Donald Trump issued an immigration ban on residents of seven principally Muslim countries

      Dr. Rany Jazayerli shows the letter he wrote to his patients after President Donald Trump issued an immigration ban on residents of seven principally Muslim countries Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Editor's note: A few days after President Donald Trump's executive order on immigrants, Rany Jazayerli, a dermatologist with offices in St. Charles Sycamore and Oak Park, wrote a letter to his patients. He detailed his Syrian and Muslim heritage, and how his parents, who came from Syria to the U.S., were accepted as "full citizens in due time." Here, Jazayerli details the reasons he wrote the letter and the reaction he's received.

I was attending a medical conference in Park City, Utah, the day that President Trump signed the executive order putting an immediate ban in place on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

I can't say that I was surprised that the new administration made the move, but like many Americans, I was stunned by the ham-fisted and needlessly cruel way the rule was implemented -- effective immediately and with no warning, meaning that immigrants who had lawfully boarded a plane in another country got off the plane to find out that they were now suddenly illegal, and forcibly deported.

And, at least at first, the rule was interpreted so broadly that even Green Card holders were being denied entry into the country they had lawfully lived in for decades.

Everything that happened in those first few days -- the chaos at the airports, the heartbreaking stories of children separated from their parents, and doctors and other professionals turned away at the border -- I learned about from my Twitter feed, generally while sitting on a ski lift. And while people of conscience from all walks of life were pushing back against this order, gathering by the thousands outside airports to protest, or cheering travelers that finally emerged from the immigration desk, or lawyers who set up shop inside airport terminals to provide pro bono legal help to people who were ensnared by this new rule, I was enjoying beautiful mountain scenery, skiing, and generally feeling pretty useless.

While other people were resisting what they perceived to be a gross injustice -- something that the courts eventually agreed with, and struck down the executive order -- I was doing nothing. And I felt like I had to do something.

So the morning that I returned to Chicago, I wrote a letter to my patients. I figured that many of my patients had no idea of my heritage, given that I don't have an accent and (like most people of Syrian descent) I'm white, hardly fitting the Muslim stereotype that for many Americans is the only Muslim they know. Opinion polls consistently show that Americans who know a Muslim personally are more inclined to think positively of Muslims than those who haven't. For many of my patients, I had an opportunity to be the only Muslim they know. And while many Americans support the idea of a "Muslim ban" in the abstract, I was optimistic that putting a human face on the issue would encourage people to reconsider it.

It is a cliché to say that we are a nation of immigrants. But it is also true. So I tried to frame the issue of immigrants from the Muslim world coming to America as the same pursuit of the American dream that has brought immigrants to these shores for centuries. And I tried to hold my family up as an example of how immigrants can enrich America as much as America enriches them.

Maybe I'm supposed to be surprised at how positive the response has been from my patients, but I'm really not. I have complete confidence in the inherent goodness of this nation and its people, and I had faith that once my patients understood how this order affected me on a personal level, they would respond with sympathy and support.

And they have. Not every patient has read the letter, of course, and not everyone who has read the letter has commented about it. But those who have are completely supportive of it. Several patients have asked if I still have family in Syria (I do), and inquired about their well-being, given the humanitarian crisis taking place there.

And the next patient who says something critical about my letter, or tells my staff that they'll be taking their business elsewhere, will be the first.

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