President Donald Trump's recent Executive Order halting thousands from entering the United States in particular placed a temporary but devastating ban on the resettlement of refugees - ALL refugees, no matter their country of origin or the circumstances which drove them to flee their homelands. At its core, the president's Executive Order was hastily undertaken and ill-conceived, targeting the very men, women, and children who are so often on the frontlines of the extremist violence and atrocities that President Trump says he wants to confront. By targeting refugees under his so-called travel ban, President Trump is conflating the victims of extremism with the perpetrators of extremist crimes.
While the Executive Order is now on hold, thanks to a district court ruling in Washington state, the Order may still stand as it works its way through the U.S. legal system, ultimately ending up in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. Once the case goes before the Supreme Court, the justices will have to weigh the president's national security powers against other legal protections under the U.S. Constitution. More specifically, the Supreme Court justices will have to decide whether it is constitutional for a president to assert his broad national security authorities and significantly disrupt the U.S. refugee resettlement program, an action that will cause irreparable harm to individuals in the total absence of evidence that they or the program poses a clear and present danger to the security of the United States.
Respected organizations such as the Rand Corporation and the Cato Institute have debunked arguments that would justify the identification of refugees, including Syrian refugees, as potential terrorists. President Trump often points to Europe, which has been afflicted by terrible terrorist attacks over the past two years. But these examples are not applicable to the United States, and the repetition of these arguments is misleading. European countries, which are facing an acute humanitarian crisis of historic proportions, were not in a position to utilize anything even remotely approaching the extensive U.S. vetting process. The United States, however, already has an effective vetting system in place - not a single resettled refugee has been convicted of domestic terrorism.
Regardless of this evidence or how the current legal battle over the Executive Order is resolved, the Trump administration has made clear its intention to reduce the resettlement quota by more than half in 2017, from a planned 110,000 refugees to about 50,000. This move will dash the hopes of some 60,000 refugees who are currently in the midst of extensive vetting process. In 2015 and 2016, Europe faced a historic flood of refugees which was created by an utterly unique set of circumstances. The United States does not face similar uncontrolled influx of refugees, both because of our geography and because the United States already employs an effective and stringent immigration system. What's more, the extensive and in-depth vetting process used by the United States can take anywhere between two years and in some cases up to ten years to complete, further limiting and controlling the flow of refugees entering the United States.
It is important to note that, if imposed, the president's travel ban would mean that refugee women and girls living in dangerous places will remain at risk of sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violent acts, that ill refugees would not get access to life-saving medical treatment, that unaccompanied children would remain at risk of exploitation and trafficking, and that refugee families would endure separation from family members already in the United States. Further, refugees who were already poised to travel to the U.S. on approved documents are now particularly vulnerable, having resigned jobs, sold all their belongings, and severed ties with their communities, only to see long-held promises of resettlement vanish overnight.
Beyond the devastating impacts on individual refugees, the president's plan to turn his back on a successful and long-standing U.S. bi-partisan policy will affect the decision making of governments worldwide. The United States has been the lead architect of the collective humanitarian, human rights, and security architecture of the post-World War II era. There are more refugees today than at any time since the Second World War, and most of these refugees - more than 85 percent - reside in countries neighboring those from which they fled. In many instances, refugees flee to countries that are facing their own economic hardships and political and social instabilities.
In eschewing its long-held leadership, reneging on the principle of joint action and responsibility sharing, the United States will in all likelihood engender the progressive erosion of the international refugee protection system with dramatic human consequences. Why shouldn't Kenya, Germany, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Pakistan - among many other refugee-hosting nations - make similar claims and immediately suspend their refugee protection programs? If nations take these actions, the Middle East, Africa and other regions would likely be thrown into even greater turmoil which could then be exploited by extremist groups and further endanger our common strategic interests.
When the world came together last year for the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants and the U.S. Leaders Summit on Refugees, countries around the world made specific commitments and today are developing compacts to enshrine the best solutions to the current displacement crisis. Just when the need for U.S. leadership is the greatest, the Trump administration has taken action that will weaken international resolve and endanger the lives of tens of thousands of refugees.
The Trump administration has made crystal clear that the Washington state court decision and other pending legal rulings will not end their pursuit of further anti-refugee policies. But by continuing down this path, the Trump administration is turning its back on decades of humanitarian doctrine and on the moral standing and leadership the United States once demonstrated to the rest of the world.