Trump’s recent executive order to suspend the U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days, ban all immigrants from Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Iran, Somali and Yemen, and shut down the admission of all refugees from Syria, poses a greater threat to our national security than any potential threat from continuing the legal immigration and refugee resettlement procedures already in place.
The executive order specifically bars refugees and immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, which can be equated to a Muslim ban. Banning an entire group of people because of the actions of a minority of extremists helps promote the rhetoric terrorist groups like ISIS perpetuate, that the West is at war with Islam. Preventing refugees from being able to lead normal and safe lives only alienates them further, so that they are more likely to accept this rhetoric of the incompatibility between Islam and the West, ironically the same rhetoric posed by the far-right in America.
In our fervor of patriotism, many of us have overlooked that the largest numbers of victims of terrorist groups are Muslims themselves. According to a report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, at least 18,802 civilians have been killed by ISIS in Iraq alone in only two years.
We have also overlooked that refugees already face in-depth screening. It is difficult to imagine what Trump means by the need to develop “extreme vetting” measures when refugees already undergo rigorous procedures including 36 months of vetting by 12 to 15 governmental agencies, according to the International Rescue Committee. No Syrian refugee resettled in the United States has been arrested or removed on terrorism charges. Trump’s pause on the refugee program — and notably the indefinite pause for Syrians — seems to be an excuse to shut down the resettlement program altogether.
Unfortunately, by banning refugee resettlement from Muslim-majority countries, we are not only repeating mistakes of the past, such as when the United States turned away Jewish refugees during World War II, but we are also depriving ourselves of the opportunity to foster better relations with the Middle East.
Our strongest allies today are the ones we forged after the second World War. Following World War II, the United States invested in war-torn European countries, including Germany, through the Marshall Plan. This plan provided aid, removed trade barriers and helped modernize industries to improve conditions in Europe, and to prevent the spread of communism. Likewise, to contain the spread of extremist ideologies today, we should not cut off immigration, but we should invest in the refugees who are fleeing violence.
This past academic year, I began working on a student-led campaign called Books Not Bombs, through which students ask their respective universities to join the International Institute of Education (IIE)’s Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis to create academic seats and scholarships for students displaced by conflict. The experience of pursuing higher education in the United States for Syrian students and others would provide these students with the political understanding necessary to promote economic and political developments in their countries that are compatible with the West. Dialogue with Syrians and others on campus would also provide us an opportunity to forge better relations with the next generation, a critical move in improving our relations and mitigating tensions in the Middle East.
After completing higher education in the United States, especially since higher education has been stalled in these war-torn countries, these students would return to their country as the next generation of lawyers, doctors, engineers, scientists and others, ready to rebuild their countries with a deep understanding and appreciation of the United States. With the executive order, however, educationally displaced students from the aforementioned Muslim-majority countries can no longer arrive on student visas, and those who are already here now fear not being allowed to return to the United States after foreign travel or even being forcefully deported.
It is undeniable that many Americans have forgotten that the United States is a country built and enriched by refugees and immigrants. Many of us have become desensitized to the haunting images of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi whose lifeless body was washed ashore in Turkey, or five-year-old Omran Daqneesh who sat bloodied and stunned in an ambulance after being pulled from rubble in Aleppo. Yet, for those of us who are truly patriotic Americans, let us remember that shutting down our borders is, in fact, neither consistent with America’s history or its values, nor is it in America’s best interests in terms of security.
Iman Siddiqi is a third-year political science major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.