Oppose Trump’s recent executive action on immigration
On Friday, Jan. 27, exactly a week after taking office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order which threw the American immigration system into chaos. Families were separated for hours, protesters gathered in large numbers at major international airports, and judges acted quickly to block parts of the order after suits were brought by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union. Trump’s executive order suspends refugee resettlement in the United States for months, except in Syria, from which refugee resettlement is indefinitely suspended. In addition, the executive order temporarily bans entry for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Purportedly, the ban will help bolster national security and protect Americans from terrorism. In reality, Trump will accomplish little more than wrecking the lives of properly vetted refugees, making things even harder for Muslims and refugees in this country and casting the lives of green card and visa holders abroad into disarray. Students at Brandeis are no exception; some are afraid that they may not be allowed to return from study abroad. Whether Trump’s executive order will stand up in the courts is unclear, but we should hope that it does not. The ban is dangerous and unethical, but furthermore, it signals that the nation itself has turned its back on its most cherished values.
Trump sailed to power on a wave of populist anger against a government which was perceived as prioritizing the needs of foreigners and immigrants over white working-class Americans. Trump’s first campaign speech, in which he infamously called undocumented Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “criminals,” made his campaign focus abundantly clear. First came the proposal to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it, followed shortly by the Muslim ban. On Dec. 7, 2015, Trump’s campaign released a statement urging “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” with the goal of giving “our country's representatives” time to “figure out what is going on." According to a Dec. 8, 2015 CNN article, the proposal was instantly popular among the base supporters of the Republican party. Little more than a year later, the actual ban put into place represents a significant retreat from the extremity of a religious test for admission into the country. Nevertheless, it remains seriously problematic in its approach to Islam, tacitly and blanketly suggesting that Muslims cannot be trusted in this country. According to a Jan. 29 New York Times article, among those affected by the ban are Iraqi interpreters, who risked their lives to help the US army.
Save the ethical question, however. The claim being made by the Trump administration is that the national security of the country ought be weighed more heavily than the interests of non-citizens. The problem is that the executive order will, at best, benefit national security extremely marginally but, at worst, could seriously impair national security. According to a Jan. 29 CNN article, there have been zero terror attacks committed by refugees since 1980. Furthermore, a Jan. 28 Vox opinion piece points out that the ban would have done nothing to stop the San Bernardino shooting, the Orlando nightclub shooting, the Boston Marathon bombings, the Fort Hood shooting or even the September 11, 2001 attacks, because the perpetrators of these attacks were not from those countries. In fact, the countries from which Trump wants to ban immigration are functionally arbitrary. While it is true that many of the countries, like Syria and Libya, are mired in civil war, the United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres wisely pointed out, according to a Feb. 1 article from Reuters, “If a global terrorist organization will try to attack any country like the United States, they will probably not come with people with passports from those countries that are hotspots of conflict today.” Even more importantly, as the same Jan. 28 Vox opinion piece points out, terror groups like the Islamic State are not trying to sneak fighters in, because it makes little sense. Why would ISIS send someone halfway across the globe to a foreign country — where he would have to find guns without getting caught — when they could just use propaganda to inspire Americans to launch attacks instead?
This distinction is critical because, while the ban is designed to stop an insurgent from Syria sneaking through the border, it exacerbates the problem of “lone-wolf” terrorism which has dogged the United States for the past few years. That is, the possible benefits of the ban are far outweighed by its potential to further exacerbate pre-existing tensions with Muslims in the United States. This antagonistic portrayal of Islam is exactly the sort of material which can become recruitment propaganda for radical Islamic terrorists who seek to portray Islam as being on an irrevocable collision course with the West. The president worsens the situation when he publically appears to agree.
Furthermore, the ban makes it harder to fight these insurgent groups abroad. According to a Jan. 29 New York Times article, Iraqi officials were shocked to turn on the news and discover that the Trump administration had not even bothered to give them prior notice of the ban. Luckman Faily, Iraq’s former ambassador to Washington, commented that “many Iraqis will feel that the United States does not want a long-term relationship with Iraq.” Alienating our closest ally in the region is not an intelligent new strategy in the war on terror; it is reckless and irresponsible. It is unclear to what degree this ban will affect the war on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but it can only serve to upend key relationships and hurt morale.
Yet even if it could be proven that Trump’s executive action is in the national security interests of the country, this is hardly a sufficient condition to make it morally permissible. The ban entirely prevents the world’s most persecuted peoples from reaching safety, despite the fact that, according to a Feb. 3 Politifact article, these individuals have gone through one of the most stringent vetting systems in the world. According to an Oct. 28, 2015 Migration Policy Institute report, the country from which the United States received the most refugees in 2015 was Myanmar. For what reason Burmese refugees are not allowed enter the United States for the next four months boggles the mind. Furthermore, the fact that the Trump administration would attempt to deny legal residents of the United States entry is shocking and likely illegal. There can be no justification for this sort of merciless and cruel xenophobia. Make no mistake, the Trump administration has the blood of innocent Syrians on its hands — doctors, lawyers and teachers whose lives were destroyed by radical Islamic terrorism, who passed the strictest vetting in the world and who just wanted to give their children a better life in America.
At the onset of war in 1939, the United States turned away ships like the MS St. Louis, which was packed to the brim with Jewish refugees desperate to escape Europe. Jan. 27, the day President Trump signed his executive order, was Holocaust Memorial Day. The world swore “never again,” and yet the parallelism could not be more clear. America holds a long history as a melting pot, a nation of immigrants and a bastion of tolerance. It also has a long history of prejudice and exclusion. Trump’s Muslim ban will go down in history next to the Chinese Exclusion Act and MS St. Louis, a cold-hearted rejection of refugees and desperate peoples on the basis of their differences from us. The political right faces a choice between upholding the value of helping those who cannot help themselves or giving in to Trump’s scapegoating and fear-mongering. Senators such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham have chosen to speak out against the ban; they must be thanked and supported for this. Meanwhile, the political left faces a necessary fight, one that will require a Herculean effort to oppose those on the other side of the aisle who choose to stand with Trump. The Muslim ban is too far; a line must be drawn in the sand.