President Donald Trump’s latest executive action on immigration attempts to address the question of securing the border against terrorism. This misguided ban indefinitely bars Syrian refugees from entrance into the United States, prevents all refugees from entering the country for the next 120 days and blocks any travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries. We are not ignoring previous presidents’ actions limiting refugee resettlement, but we feel compelled to focus on this damaging executive order.
As it now stands, this action creates an inhumane situation for immigrants and refugees feeling the devastation of violence and displacement. Furthermore, it violates established federal law protecting immigrants and refugees.
While the United States certainly faces ongoing challenges to its security from global terrorist organizations, President Trump’s executive order neither substantially addresses the threat of terrorism nor adequately protects those fleeing its attacks. According to an analysis from the Cato Institute in September 2016, none of the seven nations on this new list of banned or suspended refugee points of origins have contributed to fatal terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. In fact, no refugee, Syrian or otherwise, has carried out a terrorist attack in the United States.
The result of this ban has been immediate, nationwide backlash, drawing protests across the country as refugees already en route to the United States have been detained at U.S. airports. On the first day of its implementation, more than 109 students, refugees, green-card holders living legally in the United States were detained at airports both in the U.S. and internationally. Because of this ban, families have been separated in the course of either fleeing conflict zones or simply engaging in normal travel to and from the country.
Even without the humanitarian need and constitutional concerns raised by this ban, these early detainments alone indicate a lack of constructive, nuanced analysis of how to adequately address national security concerns. Furthermore, the executive action has received received push-back from numerous faith communities across sectarian and denominational lines, including key leaders in the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities. Additionally, individuals critical to U.S. interests around the world have been barred from immigrating or seeking asylum, and still others, lawful permanent residents, have been prevented from returning home.
We argue that the executive action banning refugees from entering the United States is against our laws and lacking in humanitarian concern.
This executive order endorses discrimination against immigrants and refugees based on both religion and national origin. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 forbids discrimination against refugees on the basis of “nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” Even if it is proposed as only a short-term measure, the president’s executive action engages in religious discrimination, as it effectively explicitly criminalizes the vast majority of Muslim refugees and states that upon reinstating the refugee program, the government must prioritize people of minority religion (predominantly Christians) from the Muslim-majority countries. The allowances for refugee resettlement for reasons of religious persecution, to be conducted on a case-by-case basis, do not account for the overwhelming violence carried out against majority Muslim populations by either oppressive regimes such as the Syrian regime or by terrorist organizations such as ISIS, whose extremist ideology leads them to persecute people of any faith who refuse to embrace their radical views.
This executive order’s decision to delay or outright ban refugee admissions from certain countries can be a matter of life and death. These refugees are themselves the most vulnerable of terrorism and brutality perpetrated by either radical groups such as ISIS or Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government. The ban also prevents orphaned children from arrival in a guaranteed safe haven and breaks apart families who have become separated during displacement. Time spent reviewing the situation is a matter of life and death for these refugees–especially for Syrians, who have endured terrible suffering. Because of this executive order, they are indefinitely denied the hope of a safer life in the United States.
May we never forget the words etched into the Statue of Liberty as a reminder of the moral principles upon which this country was founded:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
This week, an effort to “make America great again” has resulted in turning away the homeless, the huddled masses, and we have closed the golden door. We believe this is necessarily contrary to the enduring values of our society. We strongly denounce this refugee ban and urge the president and his administration to consider the impact of his executive order.