The President may believe he's improving national security, but his refugee ban makes us less safe.
On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump routinely targeted immigrants generally, and refugees specifically, as a scapegoat for the country's vulnerabilities to terrorism. Acting on promises to end refugee resettlement, and to implement a "complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," President Trump recently signed a new Executive Order that suspends all resettlement efforts. This is an historic mistake for a nation currently engaged in both ideological and military conflict across the Muslim world. Unless the White House moves quickly to restore refugee resettlement, we risk validating the worst criticisms laid against the US by the Islamic States and other enemies.
The President claims that we cannot risk accepting refugees from countries in which our enemies operate. However, throughout our history, the US has accepted refugees fleeing conflicts in which we were involved. After the fighting has stopped, these refugee communities and their diaspora organizations have been critically important actors as our government has sought to achieve peace and advance its foreign policy goals. The US once fought the most contentious war in its history against Vietnam. Refugees from that conflict later fought to normalize ties between Washington and Hanoi, and today Vietnam is an important regional partner for the US in the wake of China's strengthening economic and military power. We saw similar efforts by German-Americans to support the reunification of Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
President Trump's demagoguery toward immigrants and refugees is certainly not without precedent in American history. During the early twentieth century, Americans feared that immigrants and refugees from Eastern Europe would bring about a communist revolution against the US government. Decades later, such fears that communists would infiltrate refugee flows played into official decisions to turn away many Jewish immigrants fleeing the Holocaust. Today, Americans view these denials as a terrible mistake, and rightfully so. We should not fall victim to similar fears by slamming the door on refugees fleeing terrorism.
The logic behind refugee bans has a critical weakness: It assumes that refugees hold the same ideology as our enemies. As history shows, this is not the case. Instead, refugees are fleeing the kinds of violence and oppression that our enemies practice. Have Cuban refugees fleeing Castro's oppression brought about a communist uprising in the US? Of course, they have not. In fact, Cuban-Americans are largely conservative and have pushed our government to take a hard line against communism for decades. Historically, the same has been true of Vietnamese-Americans who fled communism, although that trend is reversing somewhat in response to the Republican Party's anti-immigrant policies.
During the Cold War, the fact that refugees could successfully flee communism and pursue happiness in the US was incredibly damaging to our enemies. After all, the whole point of the Berlin Wall was to spare the Communist Bloc the embarrassment of thousands of Europeans fleeing their despotism for a better life in the democratic West. Both Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia would feature refugees in their broadcasts in order to most effectively appeal to foreign audiences. Today, the dynamic has been turned on its head. Islamic State propaganda is currently using the President's ban to recruit new soldiers.
Ironically, our enemies today are especially vulnerable to images of refugees integrating successfully into Western society. Unlike during the Cold War, governments and militant groups cannot completely contain broadcasts from the outside world. It has never been easier for an American public affairs officer sitting in Washington, DC to push back against an adversarial propagandist halfway across the globe. In this environment, the Islamic State depends upon a narrative that claims the US and Islam are fundamentally incompatible. Unfortunately, some officials in the Republican Party have recently echoed similar talking points. While we should be careful about equating such statements with the hatred of our enemies, there is no question that the US government under President Trump could be doing a better job of showing the Muslim world a positive image of America.
In the absence of support from Congress and the White House, it is up to the American people to show our enemies that we welcome those fleeing their despotism. The protests against President Trump's first anti-refugee Executive Order, footage of which aired across the globe, were a great first step. As the Trump Administration continues down this path, we must continue showing up in large numbers to show the world our true values. In the meantime, consider donating to one or more of the groups below that support refugees in the US and across the globe. Our generosity is not lost on them.