By Lara Kajs
On January 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that immediately barred people from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen from entering the United States, and suspended any refugee resettlement for 120 days.
The order indefinitely banned Syrian refugees and specifically targeted Muslims. Confusion, panic and uncertainty ensued, not only in the US but around the world; separating families and leaving thousands of travelers stranded in airports.
Although federal judges halted the original order, a new order was released on March 6 that will go into effect on March 16. In the new decree Iraq has been removed from the list of banned countries and the indefinite ban of Syrians has been lifted, making it possible for refugees to be admitted to the U.S. However, the entire refugee resettlement program is shut down for 120 days and no visas will be issued for a period of 90 days to citizens of the six targeted Muslim majority countries.
Additionally the cap on refugees resettled in the U.S. has been lowered from 110,000 (set by President Obama) to 50,000 set by the Trump administration. As with the previous order, the new decree has been sharply criticized as targeting and demonizing Muslim communities inside and outside the United States.
While the Trump administration has argued that the new policies are necessary to keep Americans safe from terrorists, analysts and scholars argue that banning refugees, especially those from a few Muslim majority countries, will not necessarily prevent terrorism, neither will it make America any safer. Further, targeting already vulnerable populations fleeing for their lives from violence and conflict and refusing to offer assistance or grant entrance is not only reprehensible, it undermines the core values and ideals that many Americans embrace. The idea of ‘the melting pot’ known as the United States, no longer welcoming others to our shores, is just un-American.
But the travel ban – both the original form and the ‘new and improved’ version is irresponsible. Portraying communities as a security threat simply because of their country of origin is misleading and reckless.
The debate surrounding the vetting and screening process for refugees has been embedded in hyper-politicized discourse. During his campaign, Trump called for “extreme vetting” and post-election he has continued to make similar demands. By casting a shadow of doubt on the vetting process, many politicians and officials believe that they can use fear to increase support of policies that discriminate against religion and culture.
The truth is that the vetting process for refugees is a lengthy procedure. In fact, the United States has one of the most intense and stringent vetting processes - more so than many other countries - taking between two to five years for approval and resettlement. Refugees are subjected to severe scrutiny which includes multiple interviews, fingerprint screening, iris scans and background checks across federal agencies including the State Department, .FBI, Homeland Security, and US Immigration – all in addition to the initial interview and registration with the United Nations.
Since the start of the violence and conflict in Syria, nearly 5 million people have fled the country and are hosted in the surrounding countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt and as much as half of the pre-war population has been internally displaced within Syria’s boundaries. Reports indicated that as many as 400,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict. While Germany has admitted 300,000 Syrian refugees, the United States has resettled less than 15,000.
In the original travel ban, Trump called for a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S.; however under the new decree, the ban against religious minorities was omitted. Still, given the president’s previous sanctions against Muslims, many have concerns regarding how the new guidelines will be implemented.
In the immediate aftermath of the announcement of the new travel ban, there was an outpouring of concern. Senators Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer, as well as The American Civil Liberties spoke out against the decree, vowing to challenge the order. No matter how it is dressed up and reworded, a ban is still a ban and targeting people based on origin, religion and culture is discrimination and that is unlawful.
Featured Image: Immigration activists, including members of the DC Justice for Muslims Coalition, rally against the Trump administration’s new ban against travelers from six Muslim majority nations, outside of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington, D.C., March 7. Reuters/Eric Thayer