In light of recent political events and VCU’s diverse student body, my attention has been largely focused on the Trump administration’s executive order banning refugees and immigrants from various Middle Eastern and North African countries. Most of the reactions in my insular social bubble have been that of stark consternation and anger — and understandably so. Even still, there is a certain context to what is happening that tends to go neglected or obscured by people I typically consider close to my liberal persuasions.
President Trump’s executive action generalizes against entire national populations, which makes it unjustly prejudiced and ineffective, but it is equally important to keep in mind the legitimate security concerns about terrorist organizations exploiting refugee crises and smuggling violent jihadists into welcoming countries. These threats do exist and the failure to rectify this threat only empowers fascists. Furthermore, sleeper cells are real and ISIS is using the refugee crisis to gain access to countries that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
Why is there such varying magnitude of selective outrage over the actions of the Trump administration? In December 2015, President Obama signed the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act as part of an omnibus spending bill. The legislation prevented citizens from 38 countries from accessing the Visa Waiver Program, which allows travelers entrance into the US for up to 90 days without a visa. This initiative, while similar in its intended effect, paved the way for Trump to enact his executive order.
The action signed by President Trump this past Saturday bans refugee arrivals into the U.S. for 120 days, while citizens from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen will be banned for 90 days and Syria indefinitely. The countries included in Trump’s proposition were derived from Obama’s visa legislation, and the restricted additions of Libya, Somalia, and Yemen were added by the Obama Administration in February 2016. In essence, President Trump’s executive action is a continuation of President Obama’s policy.
Other western states have taken a different route and demonstrated a more open ambition to embrace incoming refugees. European countries such as Germany, the UK, France, and the Netherlands provide similar, but not identical, examples of western nations partaking in rapid migration to address the stringent refugee crises in Muslim-majority countries. Through careful inspection we can learn from these trials to craft our own approach that is both humane to refugees and socially responsible to the inhabiting domestic population.
There are two significant questions that come to mind pertaining to the current state of immigration to affluent western civilizations: How have the social interactions between incoming refugees and domestic populations fared so far and are terrorist organizations actually using refugee crises as a mechanism to spread violent jihad? Most refugees aren’t terrorists and never will be. They are people with ordinary interests seeking asylum. As Bill Frelick, Director of the Refugee Rights Program for Human Rights Watch puts it, “We are talking about needles in haystacks.” The caveat is that each one of these needles is extremely dangerous with the potential to cause destruction on a grand scale.
In Paris for instance, two of the suicide bombers were able to gain entrance into Europe with fake passports. ISIS ultimately claimed responsibility for the attacks which killed 130 people and injured hundreds. Regarding the incident, and concerns about ISIS advancements in Syria, French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters that, “An industry of fake passports has been established by the Islamic State terror group and must be investigated by international authorities.”
“The problem is not national but European and global,” Cazeneuve added. To make matters worse, U.S. intelligence agencies believe that after taking over the city of Deir ez-Zor, ISIS seized control of a passport office — a prospect that could seriously complicate the vetting process.
In Cologne, Germany over a span of three weeks, 838 people filed criminal complaints, including 497 women alleging sexual assault, according to The Guardian. Police reports describe the perpetrators as being part of a large crowd of drunken men of “Arab or North African” origin. Germany is home to Europe’s largest economy and in 2015 alone it embarked on the heroic task of accepting more than 1 million refugees; the most of any European country.
Moreover, as part of a remarkably disturbing story that I still have difficulty coming to terms with, more than 1,400 children were sexually abused in the British town of Rotherham by immigrants and the crimes were repressed in an institutional manner, according to a 2014 article by Forbes. Scores of children were failed by public representatives obsessed with left wing ideology. The social workers told the kids there was nothing they could do, lest they become branded islamophobes; the police were perturbed by potential accusations of institutionalized racism and society swept the activity under the rug for fear of finding a causal connection between immigration and crime.
I’ve included these examples not to induce a sense of xenophobia, but rather to assist in the effort of overcoming these challenges. Our western allies are the closest cultural counterparts that the world has to offer. The immigration trials in European countries aren’t failures but they also aren’t without fault. It is possible that the cultural tensions between secular liberal societies and religious theocracies take time to reconcile.
There are some things that are beyond our power. Outside of our leisurely western society lies a world of perpetual violence, famine, and other conditions leading to the need for mass migration. With the knowledge of such an abject reality it is only natural to want to help as many as possible, but can we adequately help others without first fixing our own problems?
As inhabitants of the U.S. we are responsible for the actions of our government. Countries such as Syria and Yemen are in a chaotic state with weak, failing governments. The most lasting improvements to these societies will likely only endure by improving their political conditions to enable a sense of civic stability rooted in the foundation of a reciprocal social contract. Nonetheless, this is a task that is virtually impossible when the U.S. arms jihadist factions and bombs innocent civilians within these societies.
A proper policy addressing the challenges within our social landscape requires a sufficient resettlement program and a sensitive understanding of multiculturalism coupled with a reliable and humane security apparatus. This demonstrates a level of nuance that I don’t think the Trump administration is willing to entertain. We already have the world’s most comprehensive vetting process so it is important not to start catastrophizing or allowing our sympathy to lead us towards political initiatives that pose additional security concerns.
In the words of George W. Bush’s speechwriter, David Frum: “When liberals insist that only fascists will defend borders, then voters will hire fascists to do the job liberals won’t do.” We certainly don’t want that.
Aaron Tabb, Contributing Columnist