"Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself"--HIAS PA Statement on Travel Ban

Syrian refugee holds American Flag during Refugee Thankgiving 2016


"Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself." Famous words famously stated to encourage a nation in the midst of an enormous economic depression. What are less famous, but couldn’t be more apt in light of this evening’s Presidential Proclamation, are the words immediately following those famous ones, further explicating “fear itself”: “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” While less known, these words are more resonant today than when they were initially spoken because that is precisely what this Administration’s frothing, foaming anti-immigrant, anti-refugee rhetoric is – “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror” which is causing our nation to retreat to the brink of a dark ages that we have not known for many decades.


This evening, the President issued a Proclamation, “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats” suggesting in its very title, as the President has with its prior Executive Orders, that our nation is under siege when it simply isn’t. Where have we seen such sweeping, melodramatic propaganda before and more critically, when has it ever resulted in good rather than tragic mistakes?


The Proclamation is discouraging in its sweeping ban of persons from Somalia, Syria, Iran and Libya - four countries who have contributed scores of refugees and asylum-seekers in the last several years. It is also breath-taking in its reliance on foreign government cooperation considering that many refugees are fleeing prosecution by those very same foreign governments. The bans are huge in scope, refusing tourist visas and business visas to nationals from countries where the countries have been found to not have “adequate processes” as defined by our current government.


Last year 65 million people in the world were displaced. 22.5 million fled their country. Their reasons for leaving were varied. Some fled war – in which their governments were involved. Some were the target of government militias because of their ethnicity. Some were tortured by their governments because of their political beliefs. Some fled execution  - by their governments - because of their sexual orientation. Whatever the reason, they had to give up everything—their homes, their community, everything they had ever known because home was not safe anymore. And this Proclamation claims that anyone of these persons, fleeing one of seven of the worst offenders of this government-sponsored violence and death, cannot seek refuge here because the governments won’t cooperate with our current government’s vetting standards.


The Proclamation allows for a case-by-case waiver process in name only since immediately following the language regarding case-by-case waivers is a reminder that such waivers must still be considered in light of "national security" concerns and failures of foreign governments to cooperate. Throughout is the continued drumbeat of the need for all of this heightened security because of terrorism and threats to national security, despite the lack of any evidence that these are real threats.


We call on all Americans, coming as we all do from foreign lands from whence our ancestors sought refuge, freedom, a chance to begin anew in a land with democratic ideals and the promise of opportunity for all, to condemn not only this Proclamation but also the continuous onslaught of the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee rhetoric that forms a manufactured “basis” for it. We must all stand up and cry “we are not afraid”. Again and again those that have committed terrorist acts have been found to be American – from Oklahoma City to Newtown, Connecticut and San Bernandino, CA the terrorists are American. And the largest exception to this? The September 11 hijackers – who were from Saudi Arabia – a country not mentioned once in any of the Executive Orders or the Proclamation itself. Ask yourself why that is.


Reducing the number of refugees and immigrants that can come to this country ignores the positive economic impact they make on the US. One of Google’s founders was a refugee, as was the founder of Chobani. Economic studies show that 13% of refugees are entrepreneurs, compared to only 9% of the US born population. Refugees, along with other immigrants, help grow the US GDP and provide a young workforce as the US born population ages.


Reducing the number of refugees and immigrants permitted to come to this country ignores the moral imperative to help those seeking sanctuary, a moral imperative the United States has supported since World War II  - a war that made clear the consequences of denying individuals safe refuge – close to 7 million people who could not escape and were not permitted entry to lands where they might be safe were murdered in that war. Proposing to reduce the refugee ceiling at this current moment of mass displacement would simply be a shameful repeat of a dark time in our history.


Reducing the number of refugees and immigrants permitted to come to this country diminishes United States leadership in the international community. When a country like Turkey takes in 2.9 million refugees, a significant reduction in our refugee ceiling shows the United States to be a country that ignores its international responsibility to provide sanctuary and will cause the United States to lose international credibility to ask other countries to take in refugees to help stabilize volatile situations. We lose an important diplomatic position that may make the world less safe. By leaving people without hope, the United States is creating people who may one day turn against us.


From ending DACA, to lowering family reunification in the RAISE ACT, to limiting refugees and banning immigrants and non-immigrants from several countries, the President is turning a proud and strong country that was built by refugees fleeing religious persecution into a small and cowering country that fears religious and cultural difference and hallucinates enemies in every corner. Refugees and immigrants are our neighbors, not terrorists. Refugees and immigrants are our grandparents, our colleagues and our bosses, not barriers to American employment. Refugees and immigrants are us in need. If we are not for them, who will be for us?

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