When sitting down to write about the Trump Administration and this dark chapter in our nation’s history, I realized no one describes what America represents better than you—so I decided to share a few of the letters you recently sent me. One of those letters is especially meaningful. But I’m getting ahead of the story…
Shortly after taking office, President Trump signed the first Muslim travel ban. It was not a surprise. He had repeatedly promised to institute “a total and complete shutdown on Muslims entering the United States.” It was an applause line during his campaign.
The travel ban separated families, divided employers from employees, and prohibited students and professors from resuming studies in the United States. In addition, many individuals lawfully residing in our country were denied the right to visit family members abroad or travel for business.
As attorney general of Washington state, I decided to do something about this un-American and unconstitutional action. My team worked around the clock to quickly craft our legal arguments, and I immediately filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the travel ban. A few days later, a federal judge, appointed by President George W. Bush, granted our request to halt the ban nationwide.
The best moment of my professional life was being in the courtroom when Judge Robart issued that restraining order. We knew it was an important moment—but I underestimated the emotional impact of our lawsuit on the American people.
Thousands of handwritten letters began pouring into our office.
Americans from every corner of our country shared their stories. Their letters eloquently connect the ban to historical moments when injustice touched them and their families. They convey how the ban represented a betrayal of our American values.
“I am the daughter of a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who was grateful for the chance to immigrate to America in 1939. Yet many of my relatives did not manage to escape Hitler. They were still waiting for approval of their visa applications to the U.S. when they were deported to death camps in Poland.”
“We immigrants know how precious our rights are as Americans because we know what life can be like without them.”
“This executive order recalls another time in our history 75 years ago when President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. My parents, grandparents, and aunts were incarcerated at Tule Lake because they were Japanese, and not because they had done anything wrong. We never wanted this to happen again to any other group.”
The letters are also optimistic and hopeful. Americans express solace in the work of my legal team and the message sent by the court—that even the president is accountable to the rule of law. They appreciate that we successfully used President Trump’s divisive language against him in the court of law. They express a rededication of their patriotism.
“Refugees need us and we are not the greatest country if we are afraid.”
“The people of Washington state believe in the American values inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. We are strengthened, as a nation, by our diversity, and we have a moral obligation to provide safe harbor to those whose lives and families are at risk due to political repression and widespread violence.”
“Thank you for protecting the Constitution, and thank you for showing us that truth and justice still matter very much.”
I decided to send handwritten replies to the residents of my state. It was a time-consuming process, but seemed the least I could do for the inspiration their letters provided to me and my team.
One evening I was working at our dining room table with my nine-year-old daughter doing her homework beside me. Katie noticed a drawing on one of the letters and asked me about it.
The letter that caught Katie’s eye was from an eight-year-old girl. Her family is from Iraq, one of the countries included in the first travel ban. A colorful drawing of me, done in the obvious handwriting of a child, grabbed Katie’s attention.
I read the letter to my daughter. The girl wrote, “If you did not stand up, I would not be here.”
Up until that point, my wife Colleen and I had not discussed the travel ban in any detail with our young twins. The kids did ask why I was working so much, and I simply said, “The president did a bad thing and daddy is trying to stop him.”
But when Katie listened to that letter, it put the travel ban into a language and context she understood. This child was her age and could be her classmate, her friend. This letter was not only a powerful message to me, it helped my daughter understand something important happening in her country and she wanted to know more.
Katie asked if she could add her own note to my letter, and decided to write replies to all of the many letters I received from children. It became a wonderful evening ritual for us. In addition to a note, she drew a picture on each one—a horse, a butterfly, sometimes a rainbow.
President Trump lost his appeal and eventually rescinded that original travel ban. I made the federal government send a check to the State of Washington to cover our costs in responding to their failed appeal. It wasn’t very much money, but that wasn’t the point, was it?
This was our first court victory against the Trump Administration, but not the last. Many of our victories involve environmental issues. For example, we defeated the administration’s efforts to delay a rule regulating emissions from new oil and gas facilities, another delaying air quality standards for ground-level ozone, and still another delaying a rule requiring states to measure the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by vehicles on the national highway system and set targets for reducing emissions.
I will continue to challenge the unlawful and unconstitutional actions of the Trump Administration. My team and I draw inspiration and motivation from your letters.
Thanks for writing.
Bob Ferguson is Washington state’s 18th Attorney General. As the state’s chief legal officer, Bob is committed to protecting the people of Washington against powerful interests that don’t play by the rules. He is a fourth-generation Washingtonian and a graduate of the University of Washington and New York University law school. Bob and his wife, Colleen, are the proud parents of ten-year-old twins, Jack and Katie. He welcomes your response to this letter.
Header photograph of mailboxes by werner22brigette, courtesy Pixabay. Photo of Bob Ferguson courtesy State of Washington Office of Attorney General.