“Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” is a mouthful that isn’t what it seems


January 29, 2016

Younes, an Iraqi interpreter for the US army, spent two years filing immigration papers to move to the United States. His relationship with the US government resulted in the death of his two brothers and constant surveillance on his family, he alleges. Thankfully, he received his green card and was in the final phase of the resettlement process. Now, he will never be settled in America[1]. This is as a result of the travel ban initiated by President Donald Trump’s executive order (EO) #13769 of January 27[2]. This EO temporarily bans citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering America simply for living in a country with a Muslim-majority population (or, as President Trump described them, for living in “terror-prone”[3] countries), entirely suspending the inflow of refugees to the United States, banning Syrian refugees (though the definition of “banning” remains vague), and calling for the implementation of new screening methods; interviews, “extreme” vetting, and biometric exit tracking[4]. I am not arguing that this EO will have no benefits to American domestic security; biometric scanning systems, for example, have been proven to be beneficial for ensuring the security of the immigration process[5]. But, on the whole, this EO is dangerous and detrimental to American society, let alone international culture and relations. This EO is problematic, to say the least, as it is in violation of many fundamental rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

One could argue that most of the EO’s measures are temporary and as such there is no cause for concern. Yet the fact remains that a permanent ban exists on Syrian peoples, who are trapped in a country which is a state of civil war. As a result, Syrians cannot flee their country and seek refuge in America. Certainly, other options exist in terms of countries to immigrate to, but simply not enough with adequate access. Even if the American ban is lifted, a month, a week, or even a day is a matter of life or death when you are surrounded by the violence and weapons many Syrian people face. As a result, it can be understood that this EO is a violation of 3 main human rights: the right to life, liberty (a pillar of American life, ironically enough), and personal security (Article 3), the freedom from torture and degrading treatment (Article 5) and the right to an adequate living standard (Article 25).

The above 3 articles are not the only ones being violated by President Trump’s most recent EO. This EO has been deemed a “Muslim ban” by the media, but President Trump argued in the aforementioned Facebook post that, “This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe.” This, simply put, is an “alternative fact”. In actuality, according to ex-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, “When [Trump] first announced it, he said ‘Muslim ban … He called me up and said, ‘Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.’,”[6]. Ex-Mayor Giuliani later stated that this ban is focused on preventing danger and not discriminating against religion, but the fact remains that this “danger” which is being described is nonexistent, whereas the fear of Islam and prejudice towards the faith appears to be the real motivation.

To ban immigrants and refugees from what are being described as “Muslim countries”, first of all, is factually inaccurate; there are no Muslim countries just as there are no Jewish or Christian countries; there may be Muslim-dominated populations, but a country cannot have a faith. Beyond the semantics, this ban is dangerous as it generalizes all Muslims, assumes all people of the Muslim faith are prone to terror, and that they are all radical in nature. It is true that a tiny minority of Muslim people are extremist in nature, but the same applies to a minority of people of other faiths. This EO negates all the freedom-loving and law-abiding Muslims who wish to live in the “Land of the Free.” In turn, to ban all Muslims from supposedly “terror-prone” countries is an unjust punishment, and violates basic human rights: the freedom of belief and religion (Article 18) and freedom from discrimination (Article 2).

Islam, for the record, is a peaceful faith. It is one of tolerance, acceptance, and progressive in nature. Referring to the ban of immigrants due solely to their country of origins’ predominant religion, according to the Cato Institute, “Foreigners from those seven nations have killed zero Americans in terrorist attacks on US soil between 1975 and the end of 2015.  Six Iranians, six Sudanese, two Somalis, two Iraqis, and one Yemini have been convicted of attempting or carrying out terrorist attacks on US soil. Zero Libyans or Syrians have been convicted of planning a terrorist attack on US soil during that time period.”[7] As well, CNN reported that, “every terror attack on US soil since 9/11 has been carried out by US citizens or US legal residents, not by visa holders or refugees.”[8] As earlier stated, President Trump’s discrimination and prejudice towards the Muslim faith is not as a result of fear, but rather distrust and ignorance, and has no basis in national security threats. The EO cited the events of 9/11 as a reason for the ban, yet Saudi Arabian nationals are not included in the ban – not that banning these people would make the EO acceptable because the vast majority of Saudi Arabian immigrants are believers in the values of liberty and democracy which America founded itself upon. This selectivity as to which countries to ban is yet another indication of the hypocrisy of the Trump administration, and establishes that the fear of terrorism and tangible danger is not at the root of the EO.

In a Facebook post[9], President Trump, in the hopes of justifying his new policy, compared his new measures to Obama’s policy in 2011 where Iraqi refugees were temporarily banned from entering America. This comparison is unfair for many reasons. First of all, the political conditions existing in America in 2011 were significantly different to that of America in 2017; the United States was an active participant in fighting the Iraqi insurgency at the time. Obama’s policies were as a result of a specific threat, not a xenophobic agenda[10]. Further, Obama did not ban refugees; Iraqi refugees continued to flow into America during Obama’s entire tenure as president and they were not detained the moment they landed at an American airport. What is also important to note is that just because a previous president initiated what may be considered an unethical policy and a similar one is enacted by another leader, one cannot negate the unethical nature of either policy.

As for why you should care about this EO, I understand that this is an issue originating from the American federal government and only targets certain nations. Regardless, we live in a heavily globalized world in which an event occurring in any country, be it geographically distant or not, affects us. Discrimination, unlike immigrants, knows no borders; it needs no passport or visa to spread. This indisputable truth was proven just the day after the above EO was announced: at least six worshipers were slain while praying at the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Center[11]. A federal MP representing a riding in Quebec, in response to the events in the provincial capital, said that this atrocity was, “the result of years of demonizing Muslims.”[12] More importantly, however, human rights violations are not pertinent to only one group of people; they affect the entire international community. If one group of people are under persecution or threatened, it is important for the rest of us to mobilize ourselves and to protect those who are vulnerable. If you value the sanctity of human life and identify as a humanitarian, you should care about this issue even if it does not directly impact you; innocent people remain trapped in war-torn countries as a result of a political agenda aimed at bringing the worst out of America to the forefront. President Trump, in an interview, stated that his policy will extend to other countries soon, hinting at Pakistan and India, among others. The expansion of EO #13769 will further marginalize more people which, needless to say, should not be happening in a cosmopolitan and pluralistic society such as the one existing in the United States of America. The controversy surrounding the EO is not that it is immigration reform as this was a campaign promise Trump made; the controversy is the discriminatory approach the EO took to do so. As such, the EO should not be treated as political policy, but as an attack against human rights including freedom from state or personal interference in one’s human rights (Article 30). When we stand together as an international family, we may implement change and defend the rights men and women have been fighting for generations, be they for religious liberties or safe refuge from conflict and war. Let’s not forget that the violation of the rights of one segment of our society is a violation of the rights of the society as a whole, and must not be tolerated.


Access the Universal Declaration of Human Rights here: http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/, http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/edumat/hreduseries/hereandnow/Part-5/8_udhr-abbr.htm

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/30/regret-helping-americans-now-says-iraqi-refugee-banned-us/

[2] http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/stony-brook-student-pulled-departing-flight-jfk-tarmac-article-1.2958703

[3] http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/27/politics/donald-trump-refugees-executive-order/index.html

[4] http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/28/politics/text-of-trump-executive-order-nation-ban-refugees/index.html

[5] http://cis.org/biometric-exit-tracking-feasible-and-cost-effective

[6] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/giuliani-muslim-ban_us_588e25fce4b0b065cbbca59f

[7] https://www.cato.org/blog/little-national-security-benefit-trumps-executive-order-immigration

[8] http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/28/politics/travel-ban-sciutto-tweets/index.html

[9] https://www.facebook.com/DonaldTrump/posts/10158567643610725

[10] http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/01/30/sorry-mr-president-the-obama-administration-did-nothing-similar-to-your-immigration-ban/

[11] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/01/quebec-mosque-attack-170130031548892.html

[12] https://twitter.com/GregFergus/status/825928888207421440