In 1939, a bill was placed before Congress seeking to allow 20,000 Jewish refugee children into America to escape the horrors of the Holocaust. In a flurry of America-first sentiment, the bill died on the Senate floor, and the would-be refugees were left to their fate. Seventy-one years to date after the largest Nazi death camp was liberated, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Trump signed a new executive order once again leaving refugees to their plight, this time in war-torn Syria. Though a federal judge has temporarily stayed Trump’s order, its moral consequences and implicit forewarnings cannot be ignored.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day is not the only event at odds with the signing of Trump’s executive order—just one day prior, around half a million people marched on Washington in a so-called “March for Life,” protesting abortion. The juxtaposition of this march, endorsed at the highest levels of the current administration, and the signing of an executive order the very next day which could essentially be a death warrant for thousands, is striking. The pro-life movement characterizes itself as fighting for the human right to life for those who by definition can have no voice in American political discourse: the unborn. But by and large, pro-lifers voted for Donald Trump and supported his most recent executive order. In doing so, they denied some of the most powerless people in the world, those lost and struggling in war zones, facing government oppression, and rampant violence, the possibility of escape. At the same time as the March for Life, those boarding planes to America, so close to safety, were turned away before they could reach America’s “golden door.”
What assurances could have allowed people so committed to preserving life to vote overwhelmingly for the man who, from the beginning, promised to limit all Muslim entry into the country? Could simple math have convinced them to decide avoiding nearly one million abortions per year is more worthwhile than saving tens of thousands of potential Syrian refugees? More likely, voters were persuaded by the rhetoric behind Trump’s executive order, which prioritized American lives over all others. This sentiment eerily echoes the denial of the Wagner-Rogers bill in 1939 which was designed to protect Jewish refugees but deemed less important than prioritizing “American” problems. Today, widespread fear of Islamic terrorists has led many to believe foreigners and refugees pose a substantial threat to public safety. While this fear may be legitimate, if overstated or even misguided, the relief some may feel as a result of Trump’s newest action is certainly not.
Neither of the 9/11 hijackers, nor the San Bernardino and Orlando shooters, nor the Boston bombers came from any of the seven countries included in Trump’s 90-day travel ban. In the name of national security, Trump’s executive order mysteriously exempted Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Lebanon, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, countries from which terrorists who targeted the United States originated. Besides its inaccurate targets, the executive order attempts to decrease a threat that’s not that large to begin with. There is only a 1 in 3.6 billion chance of being killed by a refugee terrorist. In fact, in 2015 more people in the United States were killed by toddlers than by terrorists. Given these facts, this executive order represents nothing more than an arbitrary display of power. It is a poorly-executed, poorly-designed attempt to combat a systemic problem that cannot be fixed by changing any current immigration standards, since the most recent terror attacks on U.S. soil were perpetrated by Americans. This executive order is nothing more than a band-aid to make the public feel like a wound has been healed, an action for action’s sake. While the Trump administration can pat itself on the back for beginning to carry out one of its most controversial, yet central, campaign promises, the largest impact of the order will not be protecting American lives, as purported, but instead upturning the lives of green-card-holding American nationals and abandoning refugees in need.
Trump’s clear disregard for the material consequences of this executive order can be seen in his administration’s rapid attempts to backtrack on the policy. In response to a flurry of nationwide protests, administration officials have backpedaled and claimed green-card holders will now be allowed back in. However, they will still be subject to random questioning, and nothing can erase the night of fear they faced, thinking they would not be re-admitted, nor the lingering uncertainty that will continue to haunt them. This kind of rash action cannot be the new normal. It seems that people’s lives and futures are now subject to the whims of a man evidently quick with action but slow with thought—a demagogue few within his adopted party are prepared to confront.
As we remember the mistakes America made during the Holocaust and the lives this country could have saved, we must also consider how we are helping those most in need of empathy and aid: the “tempest-tost” and “huddled masses” displaced by war and horror. We must stand for our ideals instead of being cowed by fear or overtaken by nationalistic rhetoric. Two events this week, Holocaust Remembrance Day and the anti-abortion march on Washington, have asked us to consider life; let us consider it, and realize that this executive order is as anti-life as it is un-American.
Image Credit: Flickr/Takver