“Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor.”-Ginetta Sagan
Today, I’m taking a break from my normally scheduled programming to express my dismay and rage at the Executive Order (EO) signed yesterday by the President, which in my eyes constitutes a subversive ban on individuals who practice Islam, or whose national origins are Middle Eastern or North African. I’ve been trying to process the order, on the heels of a week full of draconian and problematic Executive Orders and Memoranda. I saw the headlines last night, and I did not believe that this government, the government of a country I love, would turn its back on the world. That it would build such high walls, and with such wholesale discrimination.
I am a suspicious idealist by nature. I attempt to find the best in everyone, but I judge actions and I judge words. But I hold words and suspicions in purgatory until I find the truth myself. That is why one of my first actions after receiving the News Alert was to go to the White House website and read the text myself. I’d say you can too. And I’d encourage you to. But right now, the document is no longer posted. The text is still available via CNN and it is an important read.
My mind processed about fourteen different emotions as I read. Anger, disgust, dismay, shock, frustration, sadness, fear, and on and on and on. The sheer audacity, the blanket tarring of a whole religion, without naming it at all, was impressive. And not in a good way. The numerous dog whistles and subtle digs shone like beacons to a woman like me who is trained to read what is written, and what is between the lines.
A few questions emerged.
The Executive Order begins with its rationale as it says that the United States is under a constant shroud of terroristic plotting combined with bureaucratic inefficiency. The EO cites 9/11 and holds rationale for what is to come by stating there is “no instance was that more apparent than the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001…”
Yet Saudi Arabia, where the 19 hijackers were from, as well as Afghanistan, where they trained were not on the countries effected by, essentially, a blanket ban. Though not specifically named, the he seven countries are reported as “ Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.” The EO concludes by banning “immigrant and non-immigrant entry into the United States of aliens from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and non-immigrants, of such persons for 90 days.”
The above noted countries are not listed in the US Code nor the EO specifically, but were determined as ineligible for Visa Waivers for less than 90 days in a 2015 law. That said, to jump from barring Visa Waivers to a wholesale blanket ban on immigration from the region is a large and insulting jump. And lazy. Especially considering our history with the region of the world, the dynamics of immigration and terrorism, and the acute, recent history of terrorism in our own country. I understand 10,000 feet level bureacracy and the sometimes flawed rationale that leads to decisions. But why these seven countries were specifically chosen, and others left off? Was it just based in a previous law with a restriction connection, albeit a connection that was not nearly as expansive?
Another element peaked my suspicion radar, that of gender violence. I am a feminist, unapologetic and a fierce supporter of women’s rights around the world. While I completely appreciate the note of support for potentially including those fleeing gender based violence, as well as continuing to track the acts of gender violence by immigrants and refugees, I am curious what this entails.
According to the order, the vague language includes “types of acts of gender-based violence against women, including honor killings…” Will this address issues of rape, domestic violence, human trafficking, transgender harassment? And why was honor killings specifically noted when it is one of the least common but most grossly explicit examples of gender violence. Was it because honor killings often invoke certain religious and ethnic stereotypes, and thus further heightens the fear of “the other”? I certainly hope that as much focus on rape and domestic violence will be supported, investigated, and reported, even if they are committed by immigrants of “friendly” nations. If not, then this provision is nothing more than a weak nod iced with a dose of xenophobia. I anticipate explicating any report and the methodology behind future numbers, to truly see if this is lip-service or something positive for women.
Beyond a just a feminist, or perhaps because of it, I’m a lover of individuals, with their complexity and nuance that makes us all unique yet connected. This includes religion, or decisions to abstain from religion. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, President Trump as explicitly stated Christians would be given priority.
In the text of the EO, specific religions are not addressed but it does state that focal points on future immigration endeavors will include “when the person is a religious minority in his country of nationality facing religious persecution.” His explicit elevation of Christians in an interview provides the dog whistle, sowing discord and creating a divisional hierarchy.
There are thousands of individuals fleeing religious persecution, as indicated by the State Department’s list of Countries of Particular Concern and Watchlist countries. And not all fleeing persecution in these countries are Christians. Some are Muslim. Atheist. Jewish. Hindu. Will followers of these religions also be included in this facet of the EO? And how will they manage to determine who gets one of the 50,000 slots (a reduction from the anticipated 117,000)? Will there be a religious litmus test, one counter to our very own Constitution?
My questions further mount as I read in the EO that “State and local jurisdictions be granted a role in the process of determining the placement or settlement in their jurisdictions of aliens eligible to be admitted to the United States as refugees.” For the past few years, many states have been mulling their own Muslim bans, attempting to stop any refugees from settling within their borders. This aspect of the order opens up the possibility that states will begin to enact their own policies, further stigmatizing and demonizing refugees and immigrants. This is not who we are as a nation. Or perhaps it is and my idealism needs tempered with a vicious dose of reality.
Why, may you ask? Because we’ve been here before. After WWI, the USA took a decidedly insular and isolationist track, turning away refugees and closing the door to immigration. One need only remember the MS St. Louis. Over 900 people fleeing persecution squeezed onto a ship, trying desperately to escape camps, slavery, and death. After decades of draconian, tight, at times restricting immigration caps, our country turned away the ship. It is a stain on our moral integrity, memorialized as a moment of weakness and a betrayal of American ideals at the Holocaust Museum. And I’m not the only one to notice the painful repetition of the immigration laws and refugee EO. As noted in this article from Smithsonian Magazine, a twitter user is recounting those who boarded that ship with hope, only to be turned away. Over 250 to their deaths at the hands of the Nazis.
We have a rich history in this country; one inclusive of generations of refugees and immigrants. To turn our back on immigrants and refugees is to betray that history, to betray our ancestors, to betray the bedrock principles of who we are as a nation. In closing, I find it best to remember that idealistic, prominent symbol of hope that millions of immigrants watched grow in their eyes: the Statue of Liberty. At her feet, with her arms open, the famous lines greet the world:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
-Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus and Inscription on the Statue of Liberty
Photo By Marco Verch (Freiheitsstatue) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons