For anyone who follows me on social media, you surely are aware that I am a vocal, liberal progressive. I classify myself this way over the term Democrat because I think it probably better reflects my true feelings. Though I am registered with the Democratic party and mostly support Democratic candidates, I have not always been a Democrat (and may not always be, who knows). Plus, my support does not lie within the party but within what it represents, or at least is supposed to represent. An ideology that, frankly, the Democratic party has largely failed to embody lately… particularly those to whom I am a constituent. I’m looking at you, Joe Manchin. (Note: while writing this Manchin did release a statement in opposition of the Extreme Vetting Executive Order; however his lack of haste is still noted.) And for my conservative friends, please don’t stop reading just yet. I just wanted to give you my position up front. No hidden agendas here.
Nonetheless I have not always been as vocal about the American political scape as I am today, in spite of a lifelong interest in politics. For many years it was my firm held belief that I was better serving myself and my politics by not revealing my political leanings. As for serving myself? Perhaps I was right. But as for fighting for the causes that I cared about? I was taking the easy road out. The political system we live in is not one that simply requires passive involvement (or complete absence, as the case may be for many), but it demands active and aggressive participation across many different arenas. Going to the voting booth is not enough. Though if nothing else, please do do that!
I know many of you are tired of hearing about politics on your social media feed, think it futile that people protest, and want the world to just be rainbows and butterflies. I’m sorry, my friend, that isn’t reality and it isn’t wise. We need active and engaged participants, even if it is on Facebook. We need people paying attention. We need people challenging each other and those that represent us. We cannot and we should not ignore what is going on in the world around us, unless I am speaking with an ostrich (I say that literally, not figuratively). In which case, feel free to stick your head in the sand.
To be completely honest, my quiet participation in politics was party due to my fear that I was unable to defend my positions. A fear that I mitigated by diving in head first. I hesitate to say, “educate yourself,” because we hear that thrown out so frequently in anger that I don’t want to sound as though I am belittling an opposing opinion.
Unfortunately in today’s political climate it is not just beliefs we are challenging in each other, but we are challenging the very legitimacy in which that belief is derived. We do not trust the things we see or read or hear with our own ears. In some regards, I celebrate that. We must think critically about an issue rather than taking it simply for its face value. What concerns me though is our inability to distinguish fact from fiction.
It’s been a brilliant move by political strategists, to be completely frank. (They’ve been taking a note from Olivia Pope’s book!) To be skeptical of the media you consume is wise, to discredit it all as simply false because it doesn’t fit your narrative is not. Again, those critical thinking skills are valuable. We do not need only information that supports our opinions to be able to decipher truth. When I think of educating oneself though, I don’t think simply of following the news. When I mentioned diving in head first what I meant was by true engagement. The best education in politics that I’ve received hasn’t come from reading Tocqueville and Kant. (Sorry, West Virginia University Political Science Department.) The best political education I’ve had was by working with candidates, serving on small committees, volunteering for organizations that receive public money, traveling (shocker, I’m sure you all knew I was going to throw that one in there!), and by debating people a lot smarter than me (and oftentimes loosing that debate).
I don’t have all the answers. And sometimes my stance changes. Sometimes I start off feeling one way about an issue, perhaps even adamantly so, but before I know it someone has opened my eyes to an entirely new way of thinking on the subject. Sometimes I do find myself falling into the traps of circular arguments and condescension. I am sorry. It is both unkind and ineffective for me to do that. So, since we have been faced with such an explosive start to a new era in American politics, this is my attempt to explain my concerns. Without arrogance or dismissiveness. Without the brevity of 140 characters. With fact-based evidence. And with a little compassion to those who may not agree (or those who may not yet!). I hope you take the time to read this in it’s entirety, but if not thanks for at least getting this far!
Immigration: The Muslim World
As we are all well aware, Donald Trump recently signed an Executive Order halting all travelers, refugees, and green card holders (except case-by-case exceptions) from seven largely Muslim nations from entering the United States. Those nations include: Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. This action was not one of relative surprise as it was one of the fundamental aspects of his Presidential bid. So to set the stage let me remind you that during his campaign he called for extreme vetting of Muslims coming from areas of concern as shown in this video (Source: AP).
Firstly, since this is colloquially know as the “Muslim Ban” (by Democrats and Republicans alike) I very basically have an issue of discrimination based on religion. I know the administration has since said that it is not, in fact, a Muslim Ban but it is hard to decipher the difference after he said, “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” five months ago. (See above source) Regardless of his intentions now, you cannot unring a bell.
This is an absolute antithesis of fundamental American values. Religious freedom is the most basic right granted in the United States. It’s a value that we are constantly try to export worldwide, including to the countries in which its citizens we have just banned from entering. The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” (Source: Uh, the U.S. Constitution) Now I know, I know the constitution only applies to U.S. citizens. But morally speaking, if this is so fundamental to the American way of life, should we not respect this on a greater scale? But even more specially, since the executive order was applied to green card holders and legal residents, it does create a bit of a constitutional question. Are legal residents protected under the constitution of the United States? This is a question that will ultimately be answered following what I imagine will be many court cases, but based on the very limited information provided by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, vaguely I would say yes since all other laws therein do. (Source: USCIS)
Next, we’ll discuss the language of the executive order. Donald Trump’s Administration is right to think that the visa and immigration process should be thoughtful and meticulous. In fact his executive order actually begins rather well in saying, “The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, shall immediately conduct a review to determine the information needed from any country to adjudicate any visa, admission, or other benefit under the INA (adjudications) in order to determine that the individual seeking the benefit is who the individual claims to be and is not a security or public safety threat.” (Source: Extreme Vetting Executive Order) This is reasonable and fair and should be expected of our Homeland Security and State Departments. (Though this is already done and has been continually improved over recent years. But that’s neither here nor there. Source: Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs).
However, the executive order goes on to explain that without compliance of foreign governments regarding their nationals there are to be made recommendations that could halt persons from these nations from entering the United States indefinitely. This concerns me for two reasons. One, the lack of specificity concerns me because of the man sitting behind that desk. As I’m sure many would agree (both conservative and liberal), Donald Trump is not the first person I’d like to grant a lot of leeway to given his unpredictability (or predictability of unconventional ways, depends how you look at it). But secondly and more importantly, my concern is diplomatic. Given the rhetoric surrounding this administration and this policy, I imagine it to be unlikely that many of the states effected by this decision will be jumping at the bit to comply with the State Departments requests. In fact, Iraq’s Member’s of Parliament have already asserted that they would like to take retaliatory action. (Source: A generally politically neutral British news source). This coming just days after the foreign ministry chaired a meeting with the U.S. on continued joint strategy. (Source: Iraqi Foreign Ministry). These are the guys that are helping us fight the very terrorists we’re concerned about!
Iran, too, has issued similar sentiments saying, “…the Islamic Republic of Iran will engage in a careful assessment of the short and medium-term impact of the decision of the U.S. Government on Iranian nationals, and will take proportionate legal, consular and political action and while respecting the American people and differentiating between them and the hostile policies of the U.S. Government – will take reciprocal measures in order to safeguard the rights of its citizens until the time of the removal of the insulting restrictions of the Government of the United States against Iranian nationals.” (Source: Iranian Foreign Ministry). Therefore diplomatically, these actions are incredibly harmful to maintaining peace amongst nations, but also among those whose assistance we require to fight the very terrorist in which this action is supposed to combat.
The statement made by Iran’s Foreign Ministry actually brings me to my next concern. The backlash of such policies can be extremely detrimental to our overall cause. The statement by Iran begins with saying, “…despite claims of being made to combat terrorism and protecting the people of the United States, it will be recorded in history as a great gift to extremists and their supporters. While the international community needs dialogue and cooperation to address the roots of violence and extremism in a comprehensive and inclusive manner, and at a time when the United Nations General Assembly approved by consensus the proposal of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran for a World Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE), the imprudent decision of the U.S. Government to apply collective discrimination against citizens of Muslim countries will only serve to provide a fertile ground for more terrorist recruitment by deepening the ruptures and fault-lines which have been exploited by extremist demagogues to swell their ranks with disenfranchised and marginalized youth, and further promote their campaign of hatred, violence and extremism.” Honestly, I couldn’t have said it better myself. And moreover, Republicans agree! Senators and Presidential contenders McCain and Graham issued a joint statement that said, “Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism. At this very moment, American troops are fighting side-by-side with our Iraqi partners to defeat ISIL. But this executive order bans Iraqi pilots from coming to military bases in Arizona to fight our common enemies. Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.” (Source: John McCain’s senate website). I think this pretty well demonstrates my point. But nonetheless, the way we project ourselves to the world matters. And diplomats around the world agree. (Source: their actual memo) If people whose very job is to maintain cooperation between nations deplore an action like this, it is likely a poor foreign policy choice.
My next concern is more practical. I understand that we put Presidents under particularly hard pressure during their first one hundred days in office, but that is all the more reason that they should be mindful to not act too hastily. With this executive order going into effect on a Friday afternoon and without any prior notice to travelers or those effected, it left many people in limbo as they were mid-flight. Without the advice of the Secretary of State and Homeland Security, the Trump Administration painted with a very wide brush a policy that would impact many. (Source: Again, respected Republican, John McCain) Because of the lack of forethought and discussion on its execution we have been left with Border Protection officials misinterpreting and enforcing this order inconsistently.
Additionally, Bannon’s involvement and request for inclusion of legal residents is alarming. (But Bannon is a whole other topic.) Also, let me point out that the executive order does not pertain to any nation that has had a citizen involved in a deadly attack on US soil. (Source: a think tank) I do, however, think we need to have a serious discussion about our loyalties to certain countries that have very blatant human rights violations (i.e. Saudi Arabia). To which I will also say from the start, there are ways to ensure human rights worldwide as part of the international community without being Islamophobic or Xenaphobic. (Again, probably best saved for another conversation.) I digress.
I think it is also worth mentioning that the people who were being detained in airports and those who have had to cancel their travel plans were those with valid visas or residency. These are not easy processes. For anyone who has ever had to apply for a visa before, you know it’s a pain. The process of obtaining a green card is a headache to even contemplate, much less complete. Lest I forget to mention that it is expensive. (Source: U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services). And I know everyone has heard that seeking asylum is exponentially more difficult given that you must be vetted not only by the country you seek asylum in, but also by IGOs. (Source: United Nations High Commission on Refugees) Not to mention, screening into the United States became even more difficult six years ago (Source: Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs).
And lastly, I’ll address our past bans on groups from entering the US since I know it will undoubtably be brought up. Yes, in 2011 Barack Obama did suspend visas for refugees coming from Iraq. So, my thought process is two fold here. One, two wrongs do not make a right. It is not a justification to continue making bad policy simply because someone on the other side made bad policy before. That’s flawed logic. And perhaps the public and the media should have been more outraged in 2011. And two, there are some distinct differences that I think should be noted about the policy in 2011 that made it a bit less damaging than today’s. Those differences include a direct threat verified by the intelligence community that justified the suspension (Source: a federal indictment). Also, the hold on refugee admittance was in order to prescreen the 58,000 previously admitted Iraqi refugees, therefore the mandate was specific (Source: congressional hearing transcripts). Additionally, it was not a complete halt as 6,339 Iraqi refugees were still settled in the U.S. (Source: Refugee Processing Center). Lastly, Obama’s actions in 2011 did not prevent those who had valid tourist, education, or work visas from entering the country and certainly did not prevent legal residents from returning home.
One last thing to point out while looking back at history is that Trump nor Obama were the first Presidents to put limits on who could enter this country. The Chinese in the 1880s, the Jews during World War II, anarchists at the turn of the 20th century, communists in the 1950s, Iranians a little over three decades ago, and those with HIV in the late 1980s. (Source: Al Jazzera) Regardless of your feelings on Donald Trump, I hope when you look at this list you see it as blemishes on our American story. For a country of such diversity and hope for what we call the “American Dream,” I pray we do not forget out humanity when we are afraid. Isolation does not protect us, it only isolates us. For if we cannot survive without all that makes us decent and human, perhaps we should not survive at all.
*I was planning to write about all of the latest issues of controversy, but that proved to be too big of a task for one sitting. So I’ll call this part one. Perhaps I will delve into another issue when and if I feel so motivated to do so.