Trump’s actions on refugees betray American values

A Syrian refugee washes his face at the Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan on June 27, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Muhammad Hamed

(RNS) “We were wrong.”

That’s how former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns summarized one of the most notorious episodes in the history of American refugee policy. In 1939, the MS Saint Louis carried 937 Jewish refugees towards our shores. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration denied the ship access to the U.S. and forced it to return to Europe. A third of the passengers died at Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

Seventy-three years later, Burns apologized on behalf of the United States.

So too will a future American president one day apologize for the executive order signed by President Donald Trump.

There are more displaced persons in the world today than even during World War II. Trump’s response? He’s placed a barbaric 120-day moratorium on any refugees entering the country, slashed the ceiling of refugee admissions in half, placed an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria, and allowed only minority groups to be resettled from majority Muslim countries.

Syrian refugees have already managed to survive relentless bombing and shelling of their homes, businesses, hospitals, and schools. They have suffered through the worst humanitarian crisis in the world and will now be singled out for punishment.

It gets worse.

The president’s actions single out an entire group of people for discrimination based on their religion. Trump has instructed U.S. officials to prioritize admissions of non-Muslim refugees who are fleeing their countries because of religious persecution. The targeting of Muslim-majority countries for restrictions and exemptions of non-Muslims amounts to the “Muslim ban” Trump campaigned on.

Here’s one refugee helped by the Syrian Community Network who may be affected by this order:

Eiman, who didn’t want her last name used, was recently resettled in Chicago with her three children and her daughter-in-law. She is awaiting the arrival of her oldest son, his wife and their newborn daughter. They are supposed to be arriving any day now from Jordan. They have gone through all of the medical tests, plus the cultural and language orientations.

Eiman and her family have been thoroughly vetted by our already strict processes. She was interviewed multiple times by various agents and officials asking her about her life in Syria, where she worked, who were her neighbors, why she left Syria, and was fingerprinted. She did not know why she was being asked so many questions but she complied, hoping it will help her family to be resettled. She wonders if she will be reunited with her son and her new granddaughter.

What would you tell Eiman and her family?

The truth is that the U.S. has a strong history of welcoming refugees and our values reject any type of religious test. But at times in our history, we have not lived up to those values.

Trump’s executive order is not only contrary to our values, it will also make the U.S. less safe. We should go after terrorists based on evidence, not single out an entire group based on their religion. The U.S. is wrongly targeting all Muslims and reinforcing the idea that we are in a holy war with Islam. Can such a policy lead to anything other than more terrorism?

We must raise our voices now and defend our values. We do not ban people from the country based on their religion. We welcome refugees fleeing violence and persecution in their own countries. We must not let fear and lack of understanding divide us. We are strongest as a nation when we reaffirm our values.

This isn’t about political party or religious background. People of all faiths and political ideologies must come together to defend our American ideals. Tell Trump and your local officials to reverse this executive order.

“(T)o the survivors of the MS St. Louis, on behalf of the president and secretary of state,” Deputy Secretary Burns said in 2012, “I am honored to say what we should have said so long ago: welcome.”

We can stop our president from doing something we’ll all regret and apologize for in the future. Let’s say “welcome” when it matters the most: now.

(Suzanne Akhras Sahloul is executive director of the Syrian Community Network. Catherine Orsborn is director of the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign, a coalition of 34 religious denominations and faith-based organizations that works against religious bigotry and discrimination)

About the author

Suzanne Akhras Sahloul

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Catherine Orsborn


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  • No disagreement, but The Religious Right is firmly on board with this sort of oppression. You cannot appeal to the angels of their better nature because they don’t have any.

  • Obama thought he could get away with replacing George
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    If half the players are in the stands cheering on a back
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  • Give me a “C”, C
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    Give me a “l”, L
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    What does that spell “CATTLE”, “MOO”

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    Mondo has his Colt Forty Five, right by his side
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  • Giving to churches are not giving to the poor and needy. They are membership dues, building maintenance and clergy salaries.

  • Like forming peaceful communities, serving in the armed forces, forming organizations to thwart extremism, working in interfaith efforts… None of that are American values to you. Oh well.

  • They do, they just call them tithes if you doubt me,see how an LDS ward leader deals with delinquent tithing in his area. 🙂

    Now run along and pretend the earth is 6000 years old and attack less reactionary sects for not being as godly as you.

  • If I could just understand this…

    Oh, wait. I do.

    “The DNC ordered up a whiskey, they asked us for our bread
    We paid them two bits. Some day, we might have to pump them full of lead.
    There is just something about right wingers. They are so–charming.

  • Obama loves Chicago style hot dogs
    Hillary likes Italian Beef with giardiniera
    A Pelosi is a warm Italian desert stuffed with pork and topped with bacon.
    Nancy took over for Jim Jones. If you don’t stop drinking the satanic new world order koolaid, Johnny Wet Start and the Rainbow in the Dark are going to pin and mount you like a butterfly.

  • They’re putting up like a thousand Ba’al arches here, there,
    everywhere! “I’m coming out for the whole world to see” and the next thing “I’M GOING TO SUCK ON YOU LIKE A BUCKET OF TICKS FOR ETERNITY!”.

    The McGuffin is spiking humanity. The setup hero is Barack. The villain is humanity. Hillary is the anti-Christ.

    You’re gonna die of Lyme disease in denial unless you untie
    your tubes you tied in your commie core teens and join Team America. Hillary was last in line for brains. The ones she’s got are rotten and insane.

  • Behind every con man is a real whack job But if the black panthers had a pair, they would play with them all day. Hillary is so mean, she would lop off Bill’s pair, Mount them on a wall, and laugh her thighs off Only wearing Bill’s full metal helmet head.

    In the spacious confines of her slacks, Hillary eats black baby liver and onions for breakfast and femme Nazi brains covered with commie cagine in a cast iron burka for dinner. Bill found Hillary by dragging a dollar across Lakeside Trailer Park.Hillary will do anything for money.

  • Hillary smiles like a reptile and her lips are razor thin
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    To hide her potty mouth she hikes her skirt above her head
    The whole Seventh Fleet is checkin’ out her spread

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    In everybody’s business don’t care what it’s about
    Volka gin anything now it’s Guinness stout
    The whole world’s praying she finally passes out

  • The problem with the comparison to the Jewish refugees before WWII is that Jews weren’t committing terrorist attacks across Europe and even some in the US. And if by “American values” the writers mean those held by most Americans rather than those they would like us to hold, they’re wrong — most likely voters, at least, agree with the president’s temporary ban from a limited number of countries.

  • There is one prime American value that takes precedent over all the rest: our national and personal security. Ask those Americans who’ve been killed by Islamic terrorists if they think there’s any higher value than their security!

  • FDR, the FBI, and the State Department all argued that the refugees could be either Nazi or Communist spies. Operation Pastorius, in which eight German nationals or naturalized US citizens from Germany plotted terrorist attacks in the US shortly after Pearl Harbor, led to a court case in which the term “unlawful combatant” was defined. The arguments were the same then as they are now: certainly not all Jews are terrorists or spies, but there might be some mixed in there, so let’s ban them all.

  • American values as being betrayed by the whole concept and implementation of a religious test for entry into the United States. It is both illegal under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, betrays 1st Amendment sentiments of religious freedom, and declares an entire faith as being enemies of the state (great fodder for ISIS propaganda).

    American voters easily betray principles of the nation in the majority. Every discriminatory law is passed by a majority vote. Even our secretary of defense has been a harsh critic of the order as counterproductive.

    ““This kind of thing is causing us great damage right now, and it’s
    sending shock waves through the international system,” Mr. Mattis said.”

    ” he blasted Trump’s campaign promise
    to bar Muslims from coming into the country saying it made America
    appear as if “we have lost faith in reason” and damages relations with
    key allies in the Middle East.”

    These Iraqi Fighter Pilots Are Bombing ISIS — Now Trump Has Banned Them

  • “What does that spell “CATTLE”, “MOO””

    I think in your case it should be “WHACK-A-DOODLE-DOO!”

  • Try this (as opposed to collective responsibility nonsense by a fake news source like Daily Wire:)
    -Mass shootings by crazy white men in the same last 8 years exceeded the number by an exponential level. I guess they are a much greater threat to our society. 🙂

    Your source is not to be taken at face value

    “These media sources are highly biased toward conservative causes. They utilize strong loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes), publish misleading reports and omit reporting of information that may damage conservative causes. Sources in this category may be untrustworthy. .
    Factual Reporting: MIXED

    Well known Muslim enclaves in the US.

    By all means make stupid remarks about these longstanding neighborhoods
    being hotbeds of terrorism like Paris ghettos. I need a good laugh.

  • There is no evidence that the majority of Americans support this Muslim ban. In fact, only 27% of Americans actually voted for the current president. Thus it appears that most Americans are opposed to this breech of the Bill of Rights.

    The most recent North American terrorist attack was perpetrated by a white Christian male. I propose that we follow the president’s proactive approach. Ban all white Christian males from entering. To be even more safe, I suggest that the next attack they make, let’s round up all white Christian males and put them in internment camps. Oh, and don’t forget to build a wall on our northern border.

  • There’s a difference between fears of spies, whose targets of opportunity are limited, and terrorists, whose targets of opportunity are infinite.

  • No, “American values” are those practices and principles that a consensus of Americans agree on — any other definition is wishful thinking and the imposition of personal values on the nation as a whole.

    Beyond that, that’s an awful lot of shouting over a temporary ban on a handful of nations.

  • You are incorrect as a matter of history. They were not just spies, they were saboteurs. Aside from the Pastorius plotters’ targets that were of military use, like railroads and factories, they also were instructed to bomb public places and Jewish businesses. In other words, the exact kind of “unlimited” soft targets you speak of.
    Perhaps interesting side note: Wilhelm Canaris, the German intelligence chief behind Pastorius, was always suspicious of Hitler’s war plans. When he saw evidence of the Nazi atrocities against the Jews and Poles, he became part of the resistance, including in the July 20, 1944, attempted assassination of Hitler and coup. Canaris eventually was executed, by garroting with a violin string, for “treason,” at a concentration camp about a month before the war ended.

  • I’m not talking about what happened once the US joined the war, but what FDR and the rest were worried about when they turned away the Jewish refugees — by your own statement, spies. Spies are not terrorists.

  • Shorter DougH, “might makes right”.

    The bill of rights isn’t based on the will of the consensus. It is a limit on it. There are principles high cannot be abridged or attacked on the basis of the majority will. All personal liberties are based on this premise. It’s a shame you don’t recognize that.

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    Well, Mondo is a happy boy (happy boy)
    Well, Mondo is a happy boy (happy boy)
    Oh, ain’t it good when things are goin’ your way? Hey hey

    We’ll forgot about Hillary for a month and a half
    Hubba bubba hubbell hubbell hubbell
    We’ll look in the drawer and start to laugh
    Hubba bubba hubbell hubbell hubbell

  • Man, there’s a lot of unexplained phenomenon out there in
    the world. Lot of things people say, what the heck’s going on? Let me tell ya! Who built the pyramids? Stump! Who built Stonehenge? Stump!

    Yeah, man you see guys walking down the street pushing
    shopping carts and you think they’re talking to allah, they’re talk to themself. Man, no they’re talking to Stump! Stump! Stump! We’re all going to be

    You know whats going on in that Bermuda Triangle? Down in
    the Bermuda Triangle. Stump saves planes. Stump stops drones. Stump, Stump, Stump, Stump, Stump saves cruises. Aahh! The Sailing Stump! Captain Stump! President Mondo Stump it is.

    Untie your tubes you tied in your commie core teens and join team America. We can all enjoy indescribable founding father delight, double wides, and all our cousins!

    Aliens from outer space all look like Mondo Stump but it
    won’t matter. We’ll all be moving in perfect Stumpness!

    Next fourth of July will be independence day and worldwide Mondo day! Mondo! Mondo! Mondo!

  • From what I’ve been able to find about that particular time there were fears of spies, fifth columnists, propagandists, and secret commercial agents, but not saboteurs. THAT fear seems to have come with the war. And none of those are as big a threat to people here as terrorists.

  • The Bill of Rights was passed by a 2/3 vote in both houses of Congress and 3/4 of the states. it is the epitome of the consensus of the People.

  • The alternative to the Bill of Rights was??? A system where majority rule has no limits and there are no basic liberties beyond what can be imposed by voters.

    Majority rule, which in this case doesn’t apply to something that wasn’t even legislation, does not make something correct or worthy of support.

    It is a sad argument for something which had looked to be an unjustifiable fustercluck at all levels.

  • You were the one that said that the Bill of Rights wasn’t based “on the will of the consensus” when it clearly was. If the Federalists hadn’t finally agreed to add a Bill of Rights to our Constitution, we likely wouldn’t have a Constitution at all because it wouldn’t have been ratified. The Bill of Right is a set of restrictions on government that it was the consensus of the People should be imposed.

  • Have you read it? Have you read the Federalist Papers discussing it?

    Everything about the Bill of Rights has to do with distrust of majority will as the sole form of legal power.

    People supported it because they were bright enough to know that a political majority can become a political minority in an instant. It also wasn’t passed by the majority of the population. The majority of the population couldn’t even vote.

    Majority will has never been synonymous with right or always been acceptable. All discriminatory laws are passed by majority will.

    Again we are discussing an order done by fiat. Majority will never factored in here.

  • FDR mentioned saboteurs in a fireside chat in May 1940, a year and a half before our entry into the war.

  • You can keep on pontificating, it won’t change the fact that the Bill of Rights, along with all other rights given constitutional protection through the amendment process rather than being invented out of thin air by the Supreme Court, represent the consensus view of Americans of the time.

  • And a year after the ship full of Jews was turned away, and nine months after the war in Europe started. Do you have any evidence that saboteurs were one of the concerns at the time the Jews were turned away?

  • You ate really trying to miss the point here. The supreme Court doesn’t invent stuff out of thin air either. Even with their crappier decisions. That is just what people tell themselves when they support something the constitution doesn’t. Nowadays when they want to find excuses to attack civil liberties of others and lack a coherent legal justification.

  • When justices have to use words like “emanations” and “penumbras” to justify an opinion, that opinion is based on a fantasy rather than anything that’s actually in the law or constitution in question. And so are all future cases based on that opinion.

  • I get it. You are working off a script which makes fun of the semantics of a famous decision but lacks understanding of its substance. Hint hint, you are better off looking at its successor case Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1995) for a less lexiconically challenging view of the same rights

  • Spies are capable of committing sabotage as well. War was a predictable outcome by the late 30s. If they were worried about sabotage in May 1940, there’s no reason it wouldn’t have been a concern in June 1939. The House Un-American Activities Committee began working in 1938. A Gallup poll in January 1939 found that 2/3rds of Americans wanted to turn away Jewish children.

  • The “semantics,” as you put it, IS the substance — the justices clearly could not find the backing they needed for their predetermined outcome in the actual text or context of the Constitution. So they invented it.

  • You’re assuming. Please provide proof that saboteurs were a concern when turning away that shipment of Jews in 1939.

  • Aw, poor snowflake knows jack shit about strategic relations and can’t deal with rational thought. Go back to your safe space and enjoy the thought of Syrian children dying.

  • Spoken like someone who didn’t read the decision or understand it. Your claim is common for people who are critical of a SCOTUS decision but can’t point to a cogent legal argument which would have been valid to counter it. Its nothing more than whining over powers which the Court has exercised for over 200 years and serves as the last line of defense from our government legislating and mandating rights away from us all.

    Again, if you are going to argue the basis for the rights stated, in an honest fashion, you are best served by discussing its most modern iteration. O’Connor’s decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood was highly critical of the language used in Roe v. Wade but also described and justified the rights created by it in a more concise fashion.

  • The Federalist Papers don’t discuss the Bill of Rights, because the BoR didn’t exist at the time they were written. Some DO discuss the dangers of factionalism, especially if one faction is a majority of the population. (BTW, for the FP a faction is a part of society that puts the benefits of its members above the good of the nation.) But the FP’s solution isn’t a BoR, but a sheer size of the nation creating so many possible factions that no one could gain a majority. During the ratification debates the Federalists actually considered a BoR to be dangerous, on the grounds of the legal principle Expressio Unius Est Exclusio Alterius: the expression of one thing is the exclusion of the other. They only agreed to a BoR when it became clear that the Constitution wouldn’t be ratified without the promise to add one, and included the 9th Amendment precisely to state that Expressio Unius Est Exclusio Alterius didn’t apply.

    And the BoR doesn’t indicate a distrust of majority will, but a distrust of GOVERNMENT whether in support of a majority or minority.

    And this whole discussion was kicked off by your assertion that Trump’s temporary halt of refugees and immigrants from a handful of countries violates American values, and me pointing out that at least a majority of Americans support Trump’s action — and what are American values but those values that have consensus support of Americans? And the Bill of Rights represent American values precisely because they have consensus support — or at least, they used to. It’s looking more and more that neither freedom of speech nor the freedom to exercise one’s religion no longer enjoy consensus support.

  • “And the BoR doesn’t indicate a distrust of majority will, but a distrust of GOVERNMENT whether in support of a majority or minority.”

    That doesn’t make a bit of sense since the government is of the majority and the point of the bill of rights is to keep them from voting to take rights away from those groups which would lack majority vote.

    “And this whole discussion was kicked off by your assertion that Trump’s temporary halt of refugees and immigrants from a handful of countries violates American values, and me pointing out that at least a majority of Americans support Trump’s action”

    It was a nonsense assertion on two fronts. You can’t tell how much Americans supported the actions since nobody voted on them. It was an action by presidential fiat, not Congressional vote or even public referendum. Secondly a majority, even if it does exist, does not always reflect American values. Otherwise you can claim every form of discrimination is the American way. Some people may consider that to be the case, but I am not such a deeply cynical person. Might makes right is not an American value. Or at least not an America worth defending.

  • “That doesn’t make a bit of sense since the government is of the majority …”

    Considering that we currently have a president elected with 2.1% less of the popular vote than his opponent and a Senate whose 52% majority represents only 44% of the states’ population, that’s a fairly nonsensical statement.

    And yes, we can tell how much Americans support Trump’s actions — they’re called polls. And while polls can get problematical for close elections, even those are only off by a few points.

    But that’s secondary to the real point — if American values aren’t determined by the shared consensus of the American people, how are they determined? By what ivory-tower intelligentsia say they ought to be?

  • “if American values aren’t determined by the shared consensus of the American people, how are they determined”

    So basic inalienable human rights mean nothing to you. Majority rule determines all of our rights and sets the tone of all we do here.

    So your support of the wildly unpopular social conservative agenda is really un-American.

  • I FINALLY have a little spare time! Basic inalienable rights are very important to me. But we aren’t talking about universal values, we’re talking about AMERICAN values. And as I asked, if American values aren’t determined by the shared consensus of the American people, how are they determined?

  • Still trying to pretend might makes right and we subject all civil liberties to majority rule? We put limits on our government precisely because there are things we do not ever want voted away by political majorities. It’s what keeps us from voting ourselves into autocracy.

    American values are not consensus, it’s appreciation of the chaos of many. It’s our inability to agree and our innate crankiness. We don’t appreciate conformity or uniformity as a culture.

  • You still didn’t answer my question. If American values aren’t determined by the shared consensus of the American people, how are they determined?

  • Inalienable values of human existence. The basic rights and dignity we as a people demand to be unassailable by law or majority vote.

    Something which never requires consensus. In fact it is stronger when we can’t agree on how to define it. When we fight over what it means and argue it to death. Conflict is what is to be valued.

  • Those aren’t “American” values, those are human values no different whatever the race, creed, or nationality of the people in question. So for you, the phrase “American values” is meaningless.

    Also, what we cannot define we cannot describe, and what we cannot describe is useless for building any sort of law code or shared sense of order.

    I’m sorry, but your attempt to duck the implications of your position is ludicrous. American values are those values shared by most Americans — nothing more, but nothing less.

  • “those are human values no different whatever the race, creed, or nationality”

    Meaning they are perfect for the nation which does not key it’s national identity to race, creed, ethnicity or national origin, America. 🙂

  • If we can come to a consensus as to what they are (if not how they should be applied in the real world), true. But it is that consensus that makes them AMERICAN values, not their inherent nature. For instance, I would be overjoyed if the belief that we should allow anyone not a potential security or criminal threat that is willing to work hard to build a life to move here were an American value, but from the polls I’ve seen it clearly isn’t. It has been before and may be again, but not now.

  • That we are! (Presently, at least — the ancient Greeks had us beat.) All of which is why freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and federalism are so important for the long-term survival of the US.