Azeem Hussaini’s parents came to this country from India, looking to escape a life constrained by poverty and make a fresh start in the land of opportunity.
“It’s kind of the same old immigrant story,” Hussaini said. “They came here for a better life.”
They settled in Southern California, where their three children were born and raised. Neither of Hussaini’s parents attended college, but they always preached the value of education to their kids.
On Saturday, Hussaini will graduate from Oregon State University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a plan to continue his education in law school.
It’s a validation of the dream that lured Hussaini’s parents to the United States in the first place — but one that is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve in today’s anti-immigrant climate.
Even though the family is Indian and not Arab, their dark skin and Islamic faith have made them targets of suspicion and hostility since a group of mostly Arab hijackers took down four U.S. airliners in the infamous terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
And while India was not specifically targeted by President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which aimed to bar people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, the decree’s anti-Islamic sentiment was clear.
“Living in a post-9/11 world, it’s always been tough,” Hussaini said. “It’s something I’ve always lived with — Trump just ramped it up a little more.”
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Rather than keep his head down and try to avoid unwanted attention, however, Hussaini is confronting the issue head-on. AT OSU he’s been active in a number of campus organizations, including the Muslim Student Association. He served as president this year and helped organize a forum on immigration issues.
He also has taken up the cause of other groups working to secure their rights. He co-founded a campus organization called Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights, and he leads the Men’s Development and Engagement Initiative, which challenges male privilege and promotes equality for women.
For Hussaini, it’s about trying to make the world a better place — for everyone.
“I think it’s because I’m Muslim,” he said. “The very essence of Islam is social justice-oriented — it’s always fighting for the underdog.”
It’s a fight he intends to continue after law school. Hussaini plans to pursue a career as an immigration attorney or in the field of international human rights.
“I always go back to this one Quranic verse (that says) whoever saves one innocent person, it’s as if you’re saving the whole of mankind,” he said.
“I always look at it like that — if you save one life, you’re saving the world. So that’s what I want to do — I want to save that one person from being deported. I realize that’s not going to get me a lot of money, but that’s what I want to do.”