Another disastrous Trump policy has come to pass. According to ABC News, President Trump signed an executive order on January 27th that made major changes to U.S. refugee and immigration policies. The executive order, entitled "Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States", mandated an immediate suspension of immigration from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen for 90 days. Additionally, the order mandated a complete suspension of Syrian refugees, called on the Secretary of State to suspend the Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, and demanded a prioritizing of refugee admission based on "religious-based persecution".
"I'm establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America," Trump said at the Pentagon signing ceremony, according to the Hill. "We don't want them here. We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas. We only want to admit those into our country who support our country and love deeply our people."
Trump signed the executive order on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in an act of supreme irony and breathtaking callousness. Refugees fleeing the horrors of the Nazi regime were turned away by the U.S., just as they will be turned away now, observers pointed out. Hypocritically, Trump also signed the order on the same day that Vice President Pence praised him as a champion of life at the March for Life.
It soon became clear that Christian refugees would receive preferential treatment on the grounds of religious persecution. In an interview with CBN's David Brody, Trump claimed that Christian refugees deserve preferential treatment over Muslim refugees. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
BRODY: Persecuted Christians, we’ve talked about this, overseas. The refugee program, or the refugee changes you’re looking to make, as it relates to persecuted Christians, do you see them as kind of a priority here?Where this leaves Yazidis, atheists, Shiite Muslims, Ahmadiyya Muslims, and other non-Christian victims of religious persecution, we can only guess.
BRODY: You do?
TRUMP: Yes. They’ve been horribly treated. Do you know, if you were a Christian in Syria, it was impossible, very very, at least very tough to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim, you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible, and the reason that was so unfair is that everybody was persecuted in all fairness, but they were chopping off the heads of everybody, but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair. So we are going to help them.
Refugees and migrants in possession of valid visas were detained at U.S. airports in the hours after Trump signed the executive order, according to the Washington Post. At this time, it is unknown how many refugees have been detained across the U.S.
Trump's decision was applauded by some Religious Right figures, including Robert Jeffress. However, other religious groups have expressed disapproval of Trump's plans for refugees and immigrants, including the National Association of Evangelicals and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Condemnation of the executive order was swift.
- In a joint statement, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration stressed that, "We strongly believe that refugees should receive equal treatment for protection and assistance, and opportunities for resettlement, regardless of their religion, nationality or race."
- David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Refugee Committee, criticized the executive order as "hasty", reminding readers that "refugees are fleeing terror – they are not terrorists".
- In a press release on the evening of January 27th, Human Rights Watch insisted that the executive order "will cause tremendous harm to refugees and do little to address terrorism and other national security threats".
- Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, called Trump's plans "cruel and contrary to the values of our country", blasting them as "a death sentence" to refugees fleeing horrors in the Middle East.
- Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, called January 27th "a shameful day for our great country, one that is likely to condemn thousands of innocent men, women, and children to death."
One organization is taking direct action. In a January 28th press release, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that it had filed a lawsuit on behalf of plaintiffs subject to Trump's ban (more here). "President Trump's war on equality is already taking a terrible human toll. This ban cannot be allowed to continue," said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU's Immigrant Rights Project.
Trump's cruel executive order is a slap in the face to refugees. His decision comes at a time when countless people are fleeing nightmarish situations in Africa and the Middle East. All refugees, not just Christian ones from certain countries, deserve an escape from their plight, but one of those escape routes has now been closed off.
Let's be honest about Trump's motivations. His executive order was never about protecting national security or thwarting terrorists. An irrational fear of Muslims and foreigners from the Middle East, carefully nurtured by Trump and his supporters, is the driving force behind this decision.