On January 27th, 2017, President Donald J. Trump issued an executive order instructing a travel ban into the United States from seven countries with Muslim majority populations. Specifically, there is a 120 day freeze on all refugees inbound, an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria and a 90 day hold on citizen traveling regardless of purpose from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Following the issuance of the order were detainments, interrogations and in many cases, the turnaround of immigrants and refugees already properly vetted to come into the country.
Once upon a time, no one could tell anyone they could come or go: people simply landed and there they were. It’s how the first immigrants did it when they came from Europe and that’s how it was done for years. People arrived, set up shop on tracts of pristine lands full of life, and they saw that it was good. When the first immigrants landed, they quickly realized they were not alone. Yet the first Americans, Native Americans did not ask for identification or proof of a vetting process. There were no ports of entry and no ID checkpoints. These people lived off the land and showed great respect for it. They maintained balance between their needs and the needs of the world around them. They cared for each other in living color and accepted one another regardless of their differences inside and out. And they most certainly did not institute a ban on people coming into the New World.
Much later in our history, other campaigns of prejudice and segregation have been waged against groups of people for varying reasons. African Americans brought here as slaves were freed yet systematically denied basic rights for over a hundred years. The Chinese were denied entry to the United States after the California Gold Rush. People throughout the history of the United States have been denied the right to vote, the right to marry, and the chance to begin anew here in America. In the worst of times, millions have killed and died in horrible ways in war. Humans have shot, stabbed, burned, poisoned, gassed and exploded each other in the name of God and country because people thought it right to do so. In the name of fear and under the guise of security, people have been marshalled and corralled into pens and reservations. The one group tramples on the rights of another. In other occasions, people have fled their nations for lack of food, opportunities and security. The United States once took in these cold and hungry quite willingly. We’ve allowed others to visit temporarily for leisurely travel and others for schooling. My father was included in the latter group.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, the United States has been in a state of heightened ignorance and security unmatched since the days of Japanese-American internment during World War II and the Red Scare. Digital and warrantless surveillance of the citizen is an idea more and more people accept as a form of lesser evil. Unfortunately because of ethnicities and religions of the 9/11 hijackers, terrorism has been largely associated Islam. Thus our president has banned citizens from seven nations where Muslims are the majority, never mind there have been no terrorist attacks carried out by citizens of these countries in the last thirty years. The 9/11 hijackers were from Saud Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Eygpt and Lebanon and none of those were refugees. They were visa holders, vetted and allowed to come into the country for one reason or another. The New York Times reports that of the Jihadist style attacks since 9/11, none of the perpetrators were from the seven countries, and none were refugees. More than half were born in the US and the half of those who weren’t were naturalized US Citizens. Conversely, we don’t consider the majority of mass shooting events which have occurred across the country to be acts of terrorism. Few of those shooting involved immigrants of any sort. The trafficking of drugs and human beings for use as sex slaves is also apparently less important than stopping the flow of migrants.
The persons now denied entry into the United Stated have good reasons for trying to escape their countries. Some seek the freedom to practice the religion or sexual preference of their choice. To remain in Iran as a LGBTQ is a potential death sentence. Somalian refugees hope to escape the rampant war and extreme poverty ravaging their country. Libya’s refugees are fleeing war and insurgency. Iraq refugees are fleeing war, insurgency and persecution. Sudanese refugees are fleeing the war in their country. Refugees from Yemen and Syria are also fleeing violence from their respective civil wars. It can be said that the refugees of Iraq are directly the fault of United States interference. While good was done by deposing Saddam Hussein, there was no plan to implement “the peaceful transition of power” we so treasure here over there. We’ve spent at least billions of dollars rebuilding a country we spent billions of dollars destroying. This doesn’t begin to touch on the cost in human lives, both American and Iraqi, military and civilian. It’s taken many blood soaked years to get the Iraq Forces up to fighting condition through training and cooperation. Syrian refugees can also be seen as our fault via proxy war against Russia played out through the Assad Government versus Syrian rebels. Because of US and Russian interference, neighborhoods have been held under siege, hospitals have been bombed, and people have died not only in the crossfire, but from starvation and dehydration. Refugees are desperate people merely looking to live and contribute. They could do so here in the United States before this executive order. Now we have officially turned a blind eye to their suffering, we have deprived them access, we’ve deprived them their fighting chance. We’ve deprived them hope of survival.
Morally, we have a responsibility to ease the suffering of others when and where we can. When we are responsible for said suffering, we are obligated to help if we can. Put simply, this means the refugee program and the scores of people in need should not suffer for the wanton acts of a very small few. This does not mean refugees should enter the United States without some indication of no ill intent. Vetting is a tool, neither perfect nor foolproof, and it doesn’t work at all if the perpetrator is outside of its scope, i.e. born in the USA. Rather the system that allows people to enter the United States by visa, obtain green cards and citizenship needs revision with the knowledge that even then, we will not catch everyone who means us harm. The best way to really discover terrorism is through knowledge. When we know a thing or a person, we know better when something is amiss. To know it, we need to understand it and gain perspective. If we manage possible exposure to terrorism like a disease, namely total quarantine from refugees entering the country, we’re not actually addressing terrorism with an effective response. It’s like applying a bandage to the wrong wound. We need to stop witch hunting targets of opportunity. We need to stop looking solely at people from Countries x through z, or at only Muslims, or people wearing head scarves, or skin color, or haircuts. Everyone entering the United States should be vetted by specifics beginning with who, what, when, where, why and how. This needs to be done with priority going to those suffering from circumstances which infringe on the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those requesting Visas can wait.