As the Second World War began, two girls exactly the same age lived in cities less than 100 miles from each other. The families of both sought to flee to the United States. One was refused and died in a Nazi concentration camp. The other, after an odyssey via France, Spain, and Cuba, made it to New York. One was Anne Frank. The other was my mother. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, of all days, the current U.S. President issued an order banning Syrian refugees and others from entering the United States. This is an egregious act of moral failure and cruelty that demands our vocal opposition and crystal clear denunciation.
- It is morally objectionable. The ban is designed to inflict harm and hardship on all members of specific countries without regard for their individual situations or prior visa status (with uncertainty concerning the status legal U.S. permanent residents). It makes no distinction for individuals such as refugees or collaborators with the U.S. military fleeing persecution. It reverses and undercuts longstanding U.S. policy towards refugees and goes against the Geneva Convention on refugees, which requires all signatories to make provisions to accept people fleeing war. It denies people who have already been granted legal status the right of entry, arbitrarily subjects them to continued risks of persecution or the effects of war, breaks up families, and denies the pursuit of education and work for all affected individuals whose study or employment involves travel between the U.S. and one of the affected countries
- It is discriminatory. The order applies to citizens of Muslim-majority countries and specifically exempts Christians (referred to as minority population). It denies refuge and due process to a population defined primarily through its religion as the “majority” of the specified countries. It builds on a political campaign of disinformation, incitement to fear and hatred, denigration of the Muslim religion, and insinuation of collective guilt for all members of the religion, whether from the affected countries or not.
- It is a threat to national security. The order is an abdication of moral leadership by the U.S. in the world. It undermines the trust and reputation of the United States as a reliable partner. It deters local cooperation and collaboration with the U.S. in current or future foreign conflicts. It invites and encourages retribution by forces hostile to the U.S., and increases the appeal of extremist organizations. It harms U.S. business interests both directly through the impact on employees and indirectly through the heightened risk of violent retribution as a result of the order. It roils and vastly complicates diplomatic relations with countries around the world, including our closest allies.
- It is an abuse of power. The way in which the executive order was arrived at circumvented all forms of vetting within the executive branch among the different federal agencies and the office of legal counsel. It contravened established forms of the exercise of executive power, and amounts to a reckless, incompetently drafted, and dictatorial use of the powers of president regarding immigration law. This ban provides a precedent for further arbitrary and discriminatory action without deliberation or process. It effectively establishes a state religion by determining access to visas on the de facto basis of religion for those from the affected countries.
- It poses a dire threat to research and higher education. It has a special impact on education and scholarly research. Higher education depends on predictable and fair rules regarding international travel. There are over one million international students in the U.S. Many of us are ourselves, or have colleagues, family, or friends engaged in scholarly research or educational exchange with these countries whose lives and futures are suddenly in turmoil. Many of us are concerned about the expansion of this list to other countries and its affect on the future choices of students and researchers to come to the United States.
All of us will suffer from the moral consequences of the blanket turning away refugees as a matter of policy. Thus condemning the executive order is not a partisan political position: no less than Iraq-war architect former Vice President Dick Cheney said it “goes against everything we stand for and believe in.” Condemning it is a moral and ethical stance in support of fundamental principles of democracy and humanity historically supported by both major political parties in the United States. Human rights are not the purview of any one party. This is not an endorsement of any candidate for office. As a petition by political scientists stated in the run up to the election, “We can value neutrality, science, and objectivity while passing judgment against actions and proposals that jeopardize democratic institutions. These are not in conflict if we agree on basic values.” When discrimination against refugees on the basis of their religion becomes, through executive order, government policy, the widely agreed-upon basic value of human rights is jeopardized.
Over its history the U.S. has provided extraordinary opportunities to people fleeing persecution, war, and to those in search of economic, political, and personal freedom and opportunity. The U.S. has also pursued vicious discriminatory policies towards immigrants — some of the most well-known include the Chinese Exclusion Act, the internment of Japanese during World War II, and the denial of visas to European Jews fleeing the Nazis, and the denial of asylum to Haitian “boat people.” The U.S. also, of course, is itself a settler colony and trafficked millions of slaves to its shores and denied them full rights even after emancipation. Its citizens, courts and elected officials have worked hard for decades to counteract the legacies of such discrimination. We now have even more to do.