Now Entering the New America

There has been a huge amount of activity in the sphere of public interest recently.  Since the ‘election’ of President 45 we’ve seen 25 executive orders signed and put into power.  Some of these orders have been met with controversy and protest from portions of the American public.  Most of the recent protest and outrage has come from 45’s Muslim Ban and the executive order which calls for the deportation of any non-citizens with a criminal record.  What do these executive orders entail?  What do they mean for America moving forward?  How does the New America stack up to the Old America.  I will seek to answer these and many other questions that have arisen in the wake of 45’s orders.

What is the Muslim Ban?

The Muslim Ban is the colloquial name for Executive Order 13769 “Protection Of The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States”.  The executive order contains a number of clauses, the key ones being:

  1. An indefinite suspension of Syrian refugees entering the United States
  2. A 120 day shutdown of the US Refugee Admission Program
  3. A 90 day suspension of entry into the US of nationals from:
    1. Iraq
    2. Iran
    3. Lybia
    4. Somalia
    5. Sudan
    6. Yeman
    7. Syria
  4. A reduced cap on the number of refugees admitted for the 2017 fiscal year.  Down to 50,000 from 110,000

The ban is supposed to help keep ‘radical Islamist terrorists’ out of our country.  45 says he intends to establish new, stricter vetting measures (what he calls extreme vetting).

That sounds like a good thing, we don’t want terrorists in our country.

Of course.  We absolutely don’t want terrorists in our country, threatening our lives and way of life.  This order has nothing to do with terrorism.

But you said…

First of all, Executive Order 13769 said.  Not me, I’m just repeating it.  Now, on the subject of terrorism from majority Islamic countries, let’s examine that list again: Iraq, Iran, Lybia, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and Syria.  According to the Wall Street Journal, the top three nationalities of people arrested for terrorism or terrorism related acts in the US following 9/11 are: The United States, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.  In fact, of the 19 men involved in the 9/11 attacks, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, 2 were from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), 2 were from Egypt and 1 was from Lebanon.  Notice how none of those countries appear in 45’s order.  11 terrorists have been arrested in the US from those 7 countries.  None of the terror attacks they instituted involved fatalities.  Of all the major terror attacks on US soil since 9/11, none have involved nationals from the 7 countries listed.  In response to this information the White House released a list of 78 terror attacks since September of 2014 that they felt the media had underreported.  The majority of those terror attacks happened outside of the United States and using them to justify the Ban makes no sense.  Of those terror attacks that happened in the US most were committed by US citizens.  The only two whose perpetrators were born outside the US had no fatalities and the two men were from Kenya and Afghanistan.  Neither of those countries is part of the Ban.  Halting immigration from the seven countries listed in the Ban makes no sense if the goal is to try and preserve national security.

Wait… why isn’t Saudi Arabia part of the Ban?

Well, at one point Trump Organization incorporated several limited liability companies in Saudi Arabia in preparation to try and build a hotel there.  The company cancelled those corporations in December, but it is interesting to note that 45 has had business dealings with Saudi Arabia.  It should also be noted that for decades, a fundamentalist form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism has held sway among the country’s top clerics, and the ruling al-Saud dynasty, who derive much of their legitimacy from these clerics, have long avoided confronting it.  So if Saudi Arabia is home to much of the virulent Islamic extremism that 45 claims to want to protect us against, why isn’t it on the list?  That is a very good question indeed.  One to which I don’t have a definitive answer.  Though 45 also has business dealings in the UAE and Egypt as well, and both of those Muslim majority countries are absent from the Ban as well.  We can easily infer a conflict of interest here.

Still, what’s wrong with wanting stricter vetting procedures?

I’m really not sure how we can make our standards any stricter.  There are about 20 million refugees worldwide.  Most living in refugee camps and hoping their countries will calm down enough for them to return.  Only about 1% of refugees are resettled in other countries.  All of those refugees pass through the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  It’s the job of the UNHCR to handle paperwork, preliminary interviews, and scanning of the refugees eyes for a biometrics database.  Then the UNHCR or some other involved organization refers refugees to a country that might take them in.  From there the hard work begins.  When refugees are sent to the US to be vetted, they have to deal with several US Government agencies.  Among these the departments of State, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Defense, as well as the FBI and other parts of the US Intelligence Community.  They are subject to biographic and biometric tests many times over.  They are also subject to interview after interview, many asking the same questions over and over again checking for any discrepancy.  The State Department says that the process should take between 18-24 months, but immigration lawyers say that most cases actually take between 4-8 years.  The US has the strictest standards of any country that admits refugees and American refugee officers look for any reason to say no.  Less than 50% of refugees who apply make it through.  

According to a Cato Institute study, from September of 2016, your chances of being killed by a refugee committing a terrorist act on US soil is about 1 in 3.6 billion per year.  There’s no way to get the vetting process 100% certain that we’ll never admit a terrorist, but it’s such a difficult and rigorous process that it makes no sense to try and get admitted that way.

Didn’t Obama do the same thing in 2011?

Not even close.  This is a false equivalency of such magnitude that they can feel it in China right now.  45 has halted any entry to the US from the 7 listed countries for at least 90 days.  This includes Visa holders, Green Card holders, and other legal residents of the United States from those countries.  Permanent legal residents of the US were denied entry because the order didn’t really have enough detail on what their status entailed and agencies were too confused to know what to do.  According to Homeland Security those cases are being dealt with case by case, with no decision being made that affects all legal residents.  Though there have been multiple reports from immigration lawyers of Border Patrol agents ‘vetting’ Green Card holders by checking their phones and social media for their political views.  The implications of that are terrifying.  What happened in the case of former President Obama was directly linked to a terror threat.  Two men of Iraqi nationality, living in Kentucky were facing federal terrorism charges.  Fingerprints from one of the men had been found on a bomb fragment from an attack in 2005.  Due to this direct link to terrorist activity and the fact that the two men were originally from Iraq, the US halted processing new refugees from Iraq for 6 months.  This did not affect refugees who had already been processed, or were being processed, nor did it affect other forms of immigration, nor did it affect any country except Iraq.  This was also before our current standards had been implemented.  We updated our standards to what they are today in response to this potential terror threat.  So no, Obama didn’t do even nearly the same thing.

Why does the Ban mention Syria twice?

45’s focus on Syria is largely due to the presence of The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  That’s why refugees from Syria and regular immigrants from Syria are both being halted.  

What is ISIS?

Oh man, so that is a question.  ISIS is likely the most successful militant group in recent history.  They began as al Qaeda, in Iraq in 2004, but two years later they changed their name to ISIS after taking over vast swathes of Iraq and Syria, and holding them.  ISIS declared itself a legitimate state in 2014, established a government and continues its war even today.  ISIS not only wages war against Iraq and Syria, but it also conducts and inspires terrorist attacks around the world.  

Now, Syria has been engaged in a civil war since 2011, following the Arab Spring, and the situation is such a hopeless quagmire that it makes World War I look simple.  There are four main groups fighting in the war.  The Syrian Government, ISIS, a Sunni Arab rebel group called the Free Syrian Army, and The Syrian Democratic Forces.  Half of the country’s pre-war inhabitants, around 11 million people, have been killed or displaced.  The Syrian Civil War is the single largest humanitarian crisis of the past 20 years.  Syrian refugees are fleeing for their lives from a horror that I can’t even imagine.  

ISIS has never conducted a terrorist attack inside US borders, and with the US’s strict standards for refugees they are not getting in that way.  Halting all processing of Syrian refugees indefinitely is the act of a callous and cruel man.  Compassion alone dictates that we let in as many refugees as we can support.  

Wait, I still don’t understand what the Muslim Ban is all about.

It’s about fear.

But you said it didn’t have anything to do with terrorism.

I did, you’re right.  The Muslim Ban doesn’t have anything to do with Islamic terrorism, but it does have to do with fear.  The politics of fear is something that dictators use all the time, and it’s something that occurs in every single genocidal regime that the 20th and 21st century have seen.  For the Nazis it was, and still is, the Jews.  For the Ottoman Turks it was the Armenians.  For 45 it’s… mostly Islamic Terrorists and Illegal Immigrants.  If the Muslim Ban was really about protecting our country from terror attacks it would address those countries where lethal terror attacks on US soil have originated from.  It doesn’t though.  All it does is put Syrian refugees further at risk and create needless and sourceless fear among the American populace over attacks that won’t come from refugees.  The Ban makes people afraid, that was its purpose.  It’s not the first time 45 has used these tactics.  Back in August he made a speech on immigration where he called immigrants a dangerous threat to American people.  In that same speech he called refugees a ‘Trojan horse’ and falsely claimed that many Americans would still be alive today if not for the open door policy of the Obama Administration.  As we’ve seen from our overview of the Obama Administration Refugee Vetting procedure, and our overview of Islamic Terror Attacks on US Soil.  45 lies.

You mentioned Genocidal regimes, should we be worried?

Yes.  Now, is 45 committing genocide?  Hell no.  Let’s be clear that the US has not sunk to that level yet (again).  However the politics of fear that 45 uses and the specific targeting of minority groups like Muslims is a huge part of the Pyramid of Hate that the Anti-Defamation League created back in 2005*.  The Pyramid is a useful tool in genocide prevention because it show the steps that government policy and public rhetoric take as countries progress towards genocide.  It has five levels, with the final level being genocide itself.  45’s divisive rhetoric is indicative of the type of governing he plans to do.  He continues to point to immigrants as a something that should b
e a source of fear for the American public.  There’s no reason to try and incite such fear in the American public.  He paints all Muslims with the same brush that’s used for terrorists and it’s terrifying to see it happen.  Scholars of Third Reich Germany agree that there are dangerous echoes between 45’s rhetoric and that used by Hitler.  Their rises to power are not the same, but they are close enough that it is very uncomfortable.  

What about this new executive order on criminal immigrants?

Remember that Wall that 45 said was going to be built along the Mexican border?  Well he’s ordered it built.  The White House cites about $15 billion to build it, but analysts at the Washington Post feel like it would probably be around $25 billion.  We’ll put the Wall aside for now because I really don’t want to get into it.  The order also says that it will cut federal funding to ‘sanctuary cities’ a term that has never really been defined but generally means those cities who refuse to give their undocumented immigrants over to the Federal Government for deportment.  The really frightening part of the order comes from how it defines who is eligible for deportment.

How does it define that category of people?

Undocumented Immigrant Criminals

And how is that a bad thing?

Just wait until you hear how the order defines criminals.  The order mentions unauthorized immigrants who have been charged with a crime, whether or not that lead to a conviction.  It also mentions those people who committed acts that constitute a chargeable offense, whether or not they were even charged with a crime.  It also mentions anyone who, in the judgement of an immigration officer, poses a risk to public safety or national security.  That part is particularly awful because it gives individual immigration officers a massive amount of leeway and no oversight.  It should be mentioned that crossing the border illegally isn’t a felony, but is only considered a criminal misdemeanor.  Under the Obama Administration the focus was narrowed and the standards for deportment were raised.  The US Department of Homeland Security Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) was tasked with finding specific people who were here illegally who were guilty of serious crimes.  The ICE has a broad mandate that deals with much more than just catching undocumented immigrants and sending them home though.  Not all of the immigrants that the ICE deals with are even those who have crossed the border illegally.  Many are people who have entered the country legally and have stayed past their allowance.  Regardless of how they became illegal residents of the US, there is still some level of due process accorded them under the law.  Warrants for arrest must be issued.  ICE agents can not enter a private residence with an administrative warrant, they need an arrest warrant.  Illegal immigrants in the US are still people and are still to be accorded dignity.  They still have rights.  

According to a former head of the ICE, Sarah Saldaña, the executive order, which allows for the deportation of people even suspected of a crime will affect a huge number of people, but she also says that there won’t be enough money in the budget for what 45 wants to do.  Since the order was signed ICE has raided cities across the country.  6 cities were cited by the ICE as being targeted for ‘enforcement action’.  Hundreds of people were swept up in the raids on communities.  

But Illegal immigration is… well… illegal.

Look, illegal immigration is a weird topic of conversation for human rights scholars and historians.  I mean, you’re basically making people illegal.   You’re saying that this certain class of people’s existence is illegal.  That’s a weird area that I really don’t like to get into.  Rounding up people because you don’t think they have legal status or rights in your country sounds a lot like what the Nazis did to the Jews.  It sounds a lot like what Andrew Jackson did to the First Nation people before the Trail of Tears.  Neither of those are policy decisions that should be emulated and both ended in massive amounts of death.

Panic and terror are running through the American immigrant community right now.  People are terrified that they or their kids will be ripped from their homes.  Most undocumented immigrants aren’t a threat to public safety or national security.  They’re just people who are here because they wanted a better life for themselves and their children.  45 has enacted another policy that has produced massive amounts of fear amongst people living within his borders.  Time and again we have seen, in a disturbingly brief window, policies whose sole product is fear.  All people have rights in this country.  Even criminals.  A serial killer gets a fair and speedy trial, a jury of his peers, the right to face his accuser, the right against double jeopardy and self-incrimination, the right against cruel and unusual punishment, etc.  A serial killer gets that.  

But they’re not citizens, so they don’t get Rights.

Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), passed by the UN in 1948, those rights and more apply to everyone living anywhere.  The US signed the Declaration.  We’re supposed to hold to those rights for all people.  We should be treating all people with dignity.  We shouldn’t have created a world where people are afraid to leave their homes because they think they’ll get snatched off the street.  Article 13 of the UDHR says that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state’.  Article 15 says that ‘no one can be denied their nationality or the right to change their nationality’.  These people have come into our country because they want to be a part of it.  They want the opportunities that America is supposed to represent.  They came here to escape fear and find opportunity.  They didn’t come here to find another opportunity for fear.

45 will continue to use divisive rhetoric to make the people of this country afraid.  Afraid of Refugees, Immigrants, Muslims, and whatever group comes into his crosshairs next.  Policy and government shouldn’t be based around fear.  It should be based around compassion.  As a scholar of Genocide Studies, the current administration makes me afraid for the future of minorities in our country.  America has internment camps in its past, and I’d rather not see them in our future.

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