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Comedian and Actor Hasan Minhaj Discusses Refugee Debate

by on December 06, 2017 11:10 AM

Critically acclaimed actor, comedian, and writer Hasan Minhaj spoke on Tuesday night to a packed Freeman Auditorium at Penn State

“The Daily Show” correspondent opened with a series of jokes on topics ranging from Mulan’s gender fluidity to the real reason Dunkin’ Donuts is superior to Starbucks. But it wasn’t long before Minhaj delved into the trials he has faced throughout his life.

Minhaj described an instance in which he sat on a plane pre-takeoff when his mom called him. He answered the phone, but when she spoke Hindi, he became aware of the implications he might face from those around him. Minhaj hung up the phone, which he knew wouldn’t go over well and would require heavy explanation later.

“I can’t speak to my mom on the phone on a plane because people are afraid of terrorism,” Minhaj said.

He then turned his lecture to the main topic: refugees and the national debate on the topic. In the midst of the Supreme Court’s upholding of the third version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, Minhaj attempted to give what he called a “rational argument to an irrational fear.”

The 2017 White House correspondents’ dinner host shared some statistics of things that are more likely to kill you than a foreign-born terrorist. Featured on the list was everything from shark attacks to furniture.

“Unless the furniture is from IKEA,” Minhaj joked, “because then it counts as both [furniture and foreign terrorism].”

But Minhaj recognized that interesting statistics only go so far considering the nature of the argument. For him, the issue has always come down to something much deeper.

“The refugee debate boils down to a war on values” Minhaj said.

He said that most policy makers are concerned with whether or not refugees can accept American values. He showed several news clips of Republican politicians repeating the same sentiment before highlighting the disconnect that lies within that concern.

“Can Americans adopt American values?” Minhaj asked.

He explained the nation was founded on religious freedom, and it was founded by immigrants. Therefore, he said it is hypocritical to exclude refugees based on race or religion and doing so only aggravates the problem further and widens the divide on a national level.

He concluded by arguing that if people are willing to wait a minimum of two years and subject themselves to extensive vetting to come to America, then they deserve a chance to thrive here. And, he said, in the spirit of those who came before us, anyone who aims to pave their way in the United States should be given a fair opportunity to follow those dreams.

Minhaj's appearance was part of the Penn State Student Programming Association's collaboration with the Paul Robeson Cultural Center for PRCC's Radical Justice Speaker Series 

Anthony Fiset is a Penn State student and a writer for
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