Yusra Hussein

Iraq

Physician

My name is Yusra Hussain. I am a physician, originally from Iraq. I am an internist with a sub-specialty in geriatrics medicine.

I was born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq.  I attended medical school at the University of Baghdad until 1991 when the first Gulf War started. That’s basically when things went downhill and we decided to immigrate to the United States. I didn’t get to finish my medical degree there. In the States, I completed my undergraduate education at Santa Clara University, worked for two years at a startup company in the biotech industry, then attended medical school in Pennsylvania at Drexel University.   

My dad is an engineer so we were able to get a work permit visa based on his specialty. Eventually, we all applied for residency and citizenship and we ended up living in California. The process was relatively smooth for us. Subsequent years were a lot harder on new comers who came after us as they really struggled to get their citizenship.

To be honest, it’s kind of disheartening to see all this islamophobia happening, especially when you have people like myself and my colleagues who are from diverse backgrounds coming to the United States working really hard, actively contributing to the society, paying taxes, law abiding individuals, yet we’ve been discriminated against just based on our place of origin and religion. I would have to speak for my community of primarily Arab Muslims, which — believe it or not —has the lowest crime rate in the nation.

The sad thing is that the Muslims generally speaking and the Iranian-American, and Arab-American communities do not have a strong active voice in the media. I have a lot of friends who are Iranians and are wonderful entrepreneurs, scholars and researchers. Every single one of them has contributed so much to the society, yet the current Trump administration comes in and takes actions like banning people, from predominantly Muslim countries, from coming to the United States.

Imagine, if every single one of these people I mentioned earlier were not given the opportunity to be here in the United States, it would have been a major loss to humanity. What losses are we looking at right now by banning other people from coming to the U.S.? We are practically banning so many capable and intelligent members of these countries from coming to the United States. Unfortunately, it’s going to be our loss in the long run, because these people will find other place in the world to immigrate to and contribute to their societies. Eventually the loss will be ours, not theirs. That’s the part that saddens me more than anything else.

When the ban came out, I said to myself, what if Maryam was not here? Maryam is one of my brother’s friends, she’s an entrepreneur who already has a company that is worth $20 million here in the Bay Area. If that individual would not have been permitted to enter the United States, her intellectual work and her accomplishments in science would have been completely lost. This is a loss for the entire humanity, not just the United States, and that’s the part where I feel disheartened about.

And the sad thing is this whole political play. It’s not being done truly for objective reasons or because these people actually have committed crimes in the United States. You look at crime rate or even terrorist activities in the United States, most of the individuals who have committed these activities are not from the nations that have been banned. These individuals are either white or unfortunately, from the radical Wahhabis — I hate to call them Muslims —  because it’s almost an oxymoron name to call someone Muslim who is a killer, as by definition the name Muslim is someone who submits and should be peaceful in action. Unfortunately, these Wahhabis have just hijacked the name Islam and acted on their own wishes or political agenda to promote their ideology, and to hurt the Muslim community abroad and in Islamic countries.

Again, if you look at these individuals, they are primarily from nationals like Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. None of them are actually from Iraq, Iran, or Syria. Even though we talk about violence in Syria happening these days, most of these individuals who are calling themselves ISIS are immigrants with Wahhabi ideology. And so to ban people coming from nations like Iran, Syria and Yemen is absolutely unimaginable and it’s clearly motivated just for political gain.

It’s practically racism.

The majority of the immigrant coming to the U.S. are trying to escape violence or better their lives. That’s it. It doesn’t have to be escaping violence only, but just improving on your lives and the livelihood of your family. That is why my parents decided to move to the U.S.. They wanted a better future for me and my siblings.

And the sad thing — and I really want people to hear this — is that it’s very hard to build a democracy. It’s very hard to acquire civil rights. I grew up in a country that actually had no democracy. It was an autocracy practically with a dictatorship that led the country for 20 – 30 years. However, Iraq did not start out like that. Iraq, before the Baath party and being ruled by Saddam Hussein, was a country that focused on educating its citizen abroad and encouraging its people to come back and contribute to their nation. However, it changed direction when one party led by a dictator ruled. My fear is that the people of the United States should not take their freedoms and their rights for granted because, honestly, we could lose these rights and our freedom very quickly.

And we could lose them a lot faster than the time it took us to get to where we are today. And that’s the part that scares me more than anything else. Because this is a beautiful nation and there is a reason why people come here. But when it starts becoming dominated by fear, then things could turn the wrong direction very quickly.

I spend a lot of time in my medical practice and in the community, so I’m bringing these issues with me. We talk about separating work from life, but I don’t believe in that. I actually think it’s very important that we understand each other as human beings. Many of my patients know my viewpoint and we talk about why things are the way they are. I’m not shy about saying who I am and where I came from. People ask these questions all the time and I express my viewpoint. I think it’s educational and I really believe in the power of one person at a time. I think it’s very important that we speak to each individual and not assume that it’s not going to help because I really believe if you touch enough people’s lives, eventually, you’ll be able to make a difference.