Pan­der­ing to fear

The pres­i­dent’s af­front to Amer­i­can val­ues in block­ing refugees

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

THE EX­EC­U­TIVE ORDER that Pres­i­dent Trump signed on Fri­day call­ing a tem­po­rary halt to travel to the United States from seven pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim na­tions — and in­def­i­nitely block­ing refugees from the world’s largest hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis, in Syria—is an af­front to val­ues upon which the na­tion was founded and that have made it a beacon of hope around the world. Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton de­clared in 1783 that the “bo­som of Amer­ica is open” not only to the “op­u­lent and re­spectable stranger” but also “the op­pressed and per­se­cuted.” Now Mr. Trump has slammed the door on the op­pressed and per­se­cuted in a fit of ir­ra­tional xeno­pho­bia.

He or­dered for­eign na­tion­als from Syria, Iran, Su­dan, Libya, So­ma­lia, Ye­men and Iraq be barred im­me­di­ately from en­try into the United States for 90 days while more rig­or­ous visa screen­ing is put into place. This touched off panic and chaos at air­ports on Saturday as peo­ple with al­ready-is­sued visas were turned away from board­ing flights and oth­ers de­tained on ar­rival. Among those caught in the mess and held at John F. Kennedy Air­port in New York was an Iraqi who had worked for the United States in Iraq for a decade. Green card hold­ers, al­ready per­ma­nent res­i­dents in the United States who hap­pened to be over­seas, were told they could no longer re-en­ter. Un­told thou­sands of peo­ple who have ap­plied for visas — in­clud­ing trans­la­tors and in­ter­preters who have worked with U.S. forces in Iraq — were left won­der­ing if they would ever make it to Amer­i­can shores.

Syria’s civil war has forced about 4.8 mil­lion peo­ple to flee to neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, and 1 mil­lion are seek­ing asy­lum in Europe. Mr. Trump cal­lously and with­out ev­i­dence de­clared that Syr­ian refugees are “detri­men­tal to the in­ter­ests of the United States,” although in fact the rel­a­tively small num­ber who have come to the United States have proven over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive. Mr. Trump’s four-month ban on refugees from these pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim na­tions was ac­com­pa­nied by an in­struc­tion to pri­or­i­tize refugee claims made by re­li­gious mi­nori­ties fac­ing per­se­cu­tion, chiefly Chris­tians whose com­mu­ni­ties have suf­fered greatly over many decades. We think there’s a le­git­i­mate place in refugee pol­icy for fa­vor­ing per­se­cuted mi­nori­ties, but fa­vor­ing one faith while block­ing peo­ple from an­other is de­mean­ing to all and runs counter to the ba­sic tenet that the United States does not dis­crim­i­nate by re­li­gion.

Mr. Trump claims these seven coun­tries might pro­duce ter­ror­ists who “will use any means pos­si­ble to en­ter the United States.” The coun­try that supplied 15 of the 19 hi­jack­ers in the 9/11 at­tacks is Saudi Ara­bia, which is not on Mr. Trump’s list. Vig­i­lance is al­ways called for, but refugees to the United States are as a whole grate­ful and hard-work­ing and have not re­sorted to ter­ror­ism. Cut­ting them off not only pun­ishes the most vul­ner­a­ble, but may en­cour­age ter­ror­ist re­cruit­ment and vi­o­lence.

Mr. Trump’s ac­tions pan­der to rage and fear of out­siders. Yet our long his­tory shows these fears are un­founded. The di­ver­sity, ex­pe­ri­ence and striv­ing of im­mi­grants and refugees have im­mea­sur­ably strength­ened the United States; out­bursts of an­tialien sen­ti­ment have only weak­ened it.


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