President Trump is purportedly preparing to issue an executive order that would halt admitting refugees to the United States and block citizens of multiple majority-Muslim nations from entering the country. If realized, these policies make America less safe by serving as a propaganda tool for violent extremists, undercutting the core values of an open society that undergird America’s global leadership, and threatening to inflame anti-Muslim sentiment, harassment, and crimes at home – all while turning America’s back on the world’s most vulnerable during an unprecedented global refugee crisis. Additionally, the order also includes steps towards a major military intervention in Syria under the guise of so called “safe zones” in Syria. Such action would likely prolong the horrific war in Syria, prolonging — not helping — Syria’s humanitarian crisis.
Shutting the nation off to citizens of majority Muslim nations and refugees undermines U.S. national security and global leadership.
- Bipartisan national security leaders agree: accepting refugees helps U.S. national security. A letter signed by 20 former senior national security officials, ranging from Henry Kissinger to Madeleine Albright, says, “In fact, resettlement initiatives help advance U.S. national security interests by supporting the stability of our allies and partners that are struggling to host large numbers of refugees. Refugees are victims, not perpetrators, of terrorism. Categorically refusing to take them only feeds the narrative of ISIS that there is a war between Islam and the West, that Muslims are not welcome in the United States and Europe….” [Letter to Congress, 12/1/15]
- Leading by example with core values that accepts people of all faiths and nationalities sends a powerful signal to the rest of the world. America leads by example by maintaining an open society at home, which is particularly important at a time when there are over 65 million refugees and internally displaced persons in the world – the most recorded in history. On the question of Syrian refugees specifically, 22 bipartisan national security officials – ranging from Michele Flournoy to Paul Wolfowitz – wrote accepting more refugees “would be a responsible exercise in burden-sharing that would help to alleviate the suffering of vulnerable refugees most in need of resettlement. Moreover, this kind of leadership is in our nation’s best traditions and would send a powerful signal to governments in Europe and the Middle East about their obligations to do more.” In a recent letter, hundreds of interfaith religious leaders agreed. [Letter, 9/17/15]
- Policies that close-off America to Muslim-majority nations exacerbate violent extremism – not make it better. Terrorist organization fuel their ideology by propaganda that use the words and acts of foreign leaders to support the narrative of a clash of civilizations. Reuters reported based on interviews with extremists that, “Taliban commanders and Islamic State supporters say Trump’s campaign trail rhetoric against Muslims – at one point calling for a total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States – will play perfectly in their recruitment efforts, especially for disaffected youth in the West.” By continuing his campaign rhetoric into executive actions, President Trump is playing into the hands of ISIS propagandists. [Reuters, 11/14/16]
President Trump’s executive order would start planning for a so-called “safe zone” in Syria that would require significant military intervention and help extremists while hurting refugees. The last time DOD engaged in similar planning, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, warned that “Lethal force would be required to defend the zones against air, missile, and ground attacks. This would necessitate the establishment of a limited no-fly zone, with its associated resource requirements [of hundreds of aircraft]. Thousands of U.S. ground forces would be needed, even if positioned outside Syria, to support those physically defending the zones. A limited no-fly zone coupled with U.S. ground forces would push the costs over one billion dollars per month.” He added safe zones may result in the “killing [of] more refugees due to their concentration. The zones could also become operational bases for extremists.” [Martin Dempsey, 7/22/13]
The vetting process for refugees is safe, extensive and has worked for millions. Since 1975, the United States has successfully resettled over 3 million refugees. Today, the process subjects incoming refugees to a series of stringent examinations and checks by the FBI, National Counterterrorism Center, State Department, and Department of Homeland Security, including background checks, multiple interviews, biometric security checks, medical examinations, and recurrent vetting. This program is safe and effective. Since 1975, “the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year.” [CATO, 9/13/16]
The Islamophobia behind Trump’s Executive Order threatens to exacerbate attacks against the American Muslim community. The latest annual FBI Hate Crime Statistics report finds that anti-Muslim hate crimes in the US increased 67 percent in 2015 to 257 incidents. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, this is the highest number of reported hate crimes against Muslims in the United States since 2001. While the looming Executive Order purportedly focuses on potential Visa-holders and refugees, its expression of anti-Muslim sentiment risks exacerbating the current harassment and criminal attacks facing the American Muslim community.