Over the last year or so, Trump and his supporters have successfully sold a narrative to the American public that wrongly links our national security to the admission of refugees and immigrants from select Muslim nations. At every stage, the President and his aides have justified the idea of a Muslim ban and its subsequent implementation on some vague insistence that people from those countries are a threat and that we need to prevent them from coming into our country. While such a claim not only goes against our country’s history and its values, it is based on a false premise, and in fact, undermines our national security. This is a point that federal judges in both Maryland and Hawaii made in their orders temporarily halting the revised Muslim travel ban.
The False Premise that Immigration = Terrorism
According to the Global Terrorism Database, no American civilian has ever been killed in a terrorist attack committed by a citizen of one of the banned countries. There have been 16 terrorist attacks by people claiming Islamic religious affiliation in America since 1980. Not one of these attacks -- including those on 9/11, San Bernardino, and Orlando -- were committed by nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen.
Even if Trump’s executive order were well intentioned, it would not successfully thwart the threat of terrorism. The Muslim Ban is based on a premise that immigrants and refugees from those six countries are dangerous. However, a study from the University of NC Chapel Hill shows that both in raw numbers and as a percentage of the total population, Muslims are the minority among those committing violent crime in this country. Between 2011 and 2015, there were 89 terrorism attacks in the U.S.; Muslims perpetrated 12.4% of these attacks.
The UNC study showed that rather than immigrant Muslims, who were not likely to be attracted to terrorism, the greater threat is from right-wing extremists. In fact, twice as many Americans have been killed by homegrown right-wing extremist since 9/11 than by any other group. This view is also held by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security who say that homegrown terrorists like Dylan Roof, who murdered nine people in a Charleston church, represent a much bigger threat to American safety than American Muslims, immigrant or otherwise.
Knowing this, it is difficult to understand why the Trump Administration would choose the six countries to highlight and target. One can only conclude that the security arguments are a pretext for something else. This is dangerous and reckless.
Hurts US interests abroad
This executive order is counterproductive to U.S. interests abroad. By fostering the narrative that America’s values are not compatible with Islam, Trump is in essence fueling the ISIS narrative. By contrast, a welcoming America refutes the ISIS recruitment propaganda.
US Attorney Generals from 16 states, Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and over 100 former government officials have issued statements and open letters criticizing the Muslim Ban as an ill-informed and unsuccessful effort to protect American interests. Angela Merkel’s opinion found in Reuters article is that “even the necessary, decisive battle against terrorism does not justify putting people of a specific background or faith under general suspicion.” Refugee resettlement advances the stability of U.S. allies that are struggling to deal with the refugee crisis in the Middle East.
By establishing an antagonistic stand against select Muslim-majority countries, Trump has marginalized the U.S in developing Muslim alliances against ISIS. Those who are on the frontlines against ISIS are Muslim--mainly Iraqi and Syrian--and having an anti-Islam platform emanating from the White House tells Muslim-majority countries that the U.S. does not really care for Muslims, or indeed views all Muslims as “the enemy”. This makes it difficult for governments and groups to cooperate with us on any number of issues both in terms of the kinds of cooperation we will be encouraging and in fostering an environment of trust and shared interests. You cannot beat up on the person who you need help from. And America cannot fight ISIS on its own, notwithstanding the blustery pronouncements that are currently popular.
Increasing Security, Maintaining our Values
Refugees are vetted more thoroughly than any other group entering the U.S. The vetting process takes approximately 2 years. For Syrian refugees the process is more intensive, involving 21 steps. Upon clearance and referral by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Syrians undergo an initial security clearance carried out by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which involves deep background checks and biometric scans conducted through the use of various sources, including law enforcement and intelligence databases. After this initial vetting and prior to entry, selected applicants go through a second interagency security check, not to mention that 72% of Syrian refugees allowed into the US have been women and children.
These processes are constantly being reviewed and revised to ensure that the most updated and rigorous measures are applied. Any additional enhancements can be added without the need for halting refugee resettlement or banning people from certain countries. America can uphold its values and advance its national security at the same time.
A welcoming, empathetic, and open America is strong not weak. These are the values on which our country was founded and which make us both great and more secure. While President Trump does not have to welcome refugees out of kindness, he should welcome them to further U.S. national security and the real source of America’s greatness, the people who come to our shores with hope and talent.
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