Monday, January 30, 2017

Trump's Executive Order: Refugees and Realities

In the wake of President Trump’s Executive Order suspending visas from seven Muslim-majority countries, it appears that for some in the country, the red line has already been passed. Anyone who was listening to Trump during his campaign would not be dismayed by this nor any of his other actions thus far. 

Three individuals
fit in with the
784,000 refugees
who have not been implicated
in terrorism.
What this action has exposed is the ever deepening divides in our country. The difference between rhetoric and reality has never been so stark. Perhaps, when rhetoric hits the pavement of action and resulting consequences, some will actually learn from this experience. Chances are, however, that lessons learned will be determined by support or opposition to the Trump administration, preconceived notions, and already strident positions.

The reality of this executive action is that it took place without key secretaries of the cabinet in place, without appropriate alerts and preparations to agencies and personnel, and with little foresight to the problems that would arise fairly immediately and predictably.

The other reality is that the Obama administration had already applied increased screening and scrutiny for travel to and from these countries. Trump simply went much further. The factual reality that no terrorists have attacked America’s homeland from any of these countries is striking. This simply defies logic. 

Those realities seem to dissuade critics and supporters of this action from discussing it on the merits: legal, strategic, economic, and moral. Instead, there is a lot of posturing and definitely outrage and indignation. 

Yes, It Is a Muslim Ban.

For the Trump administration to make the claim that this is not a Muslim ban seems to be a bit of a farce. From the executive order, it tasks government agencies “to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual's country of nationality.” Considering every country included in the ban is a Muslim majority country, the intent is not just clear, it’s bloody apparent. 

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The largest concern for supporters of this ban is the rash of terrorist attacks throughout Europe, which some in America have attached to the refugee crisis. Some in the media and in Washington have incorrectly applied guilt to the refugees, when this was later found out not to be the case. And, the European refugee crisis simply is not an applicable model to America, as we have no land bridge nor waterway for easy transport from the Middle East as they do.

On second read, this executive order could be used to fast-track European refugees, as those Muslims would be religious minorities in those countries. 

How Did We Arrive Here?

During the Republican primary contest, Donald Trump set himself apart from the other candidates on the issue of Muslim immigrants, taking full advantage of Islamophobia and xenophobic sentiments in the Republican base in the wake of 9/11 and the rise of ISIS. This has only further entrenched divisions on the issue.
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Despite garnering much media and political establishment criticism for his positions, such as referring to Syrian refugees as a “Trojan horse,” Trump quickly rose in the polls to eventually become the Republican nominee and eventually President. He, of course, is following through on his campaign promises.

What are the Consequences?

When emotions and fears run high in America, isolationist tendencies rise as well, even when this exacerbates the problem by fueling the terrorist pipeline, at home and abroad. This is precisely what the Trump ban will accomplish by providing propaganda for our enemies, by stoking divisiveness and alarm with our own allies, and by destabilizing our own screening process. Instead of applying a precise hand to adopt a new strategy, Trump has disrupted and set our immigration and national security systems back considerably with this action.
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The most necessary ally we have in our fight against terrorists in the Middle East are Muslims. Many have placed their lives and the lives of their families on the line for us with promises given to them by our military and government for safe harbor. Breaking those promises, which is what this executive order has already began to do, undermines intelligence assets and the trust that we have built with our partners throughout that region and the world.

Beyond that, by creating such an ill-conceived Muslim ban and rolling it out in such an ineffective manner, Trump has gift-wrapped propaganda to help fuel extremists around the world. By delineating such a stark, religious context to both our foreign and domestic policy, we have tossed unnecessary fuel into the fire. 

At least there are visible and rolling protests along with appeals in court that continue.  However, the executive branch has enormous latitude regarding immigration issues. Likely, any stay will be overturned, requiring Congress to act. 
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The Refugee Resettlement Process

The reality that Syrian or any other such refugees are or were ever entering America without due diligence is starkly different from the hyperbolic rhetoric of the Trump administration or online media outlets.

There are serious concerns that do need to be addressed. The refugee crisis in Syria, Iraq, and across North Africa has created humanitarian crises across the region, stressed political, economic and cultural systems across Europe, and has been used by politicians and pundits for their own agenda.

However, the refugees that actually resettle in America go through a very elaborate process before even being considered.
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During Obama’s tenure, Canada helped to highlight the American political paralysis by resettling over 30,000 Syrian refugees and by pledging to increase their financial assistance to the humanitarian efforts by 10%. Recently, Prime Minister Trudeau went further by pledging to accept the refugees turned away by Trump’s executive order. 

Ultimately, a 5 million Syrians will likely need to be resettled outside of Syria. However, the needs of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are quite different from what is possible to achieve through the elaborate bureaucratic system in place. With an already overstressed immigrant and political situation in Europe, highlighted by both the UK’s Brexit vote and multiple terrorist attacks, the Western Hemisphere is needed to pick up the slack. 

Canada cannot be the only country to do its part, but it appears for the foreseeable future, that will have to do.
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The reality is that 67% of all Syrian refugees needing resettlement are women and children. Most of those will never make it to America. First, each refugee is vetted by the UNHCR and the Department of Homeland Security travels to the site of the refugee to begin conducting interviews to determine further security risk assessments. These DHS personnel don’t assume the information given by refugees are accurate. They then send out assets to determine the validity of the information given during these preliminary interviews.

That’s only steps one, two and three. 
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After roughly 18 to 24 months and in conjunction with DHS, the Department of State, the Department of Health and Human Services, and nine other nonprofits, a decision is finally reached if a refugee qualifies to be resettled in America. That would qualify as a fairly exhaustive process.

The needs of the UNHCR are staggering. That pales in comparison to the needs of the Syrian people. Of the nearly 5 million Syrian refugees, about a half million will likely need resettlement out of the region by 2018. Earlier Syrian refugees have been relocated throughout the Great Lakes region, the Northeast, Texas, Florida, and the Southwest, including both northern and southern California. 

History of the Program

Of the Iraqi and Afghanistan refugees that fled those war torn regions, only three of 784,000 were ever even arrested on terrorism charges, and two of those were only plotting terrorism. The other actually possessed explosives. 

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The San Bernardino attacker was born an American citizen as was the Orlando nightclub shooter. In fact, since 9/11 there has been about 28 such domestic terrorism attacks in America and no successful foreign attacks. That would qualify as fairly significant success in thwarting foreign attacks, with zero attacks coming from refugee populations.

However, an examination of the overall jihadists arrested within America since 9/11 shows a slightly different picture. When the total of 12 refugees arrested as jihadists on terrorism charges is compared to the 346 American, non-refugee citizens that were arrested on similar charges, the real terrorist threat appears to be primarily homegrown.

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Citizens and politicians have legitimate concerns regarding the costs of refugee resettlement within America. Many refugees eventually payback the cost of travel to America, only receive a $1,000 stipend for three months after arrival, required to apply for jobs, and are not tracked by the government. On the ground nonprofit organizations help these refugees find work, find housing, and help them acclimate to their new communities. 

There are both economic benefits to refugee resettlement and distributional consequences. Refugees are often not skilled and, thus, often procure lower skilled, lower wage jobs. This is great for employers that hire low skill workers because it increases the pool of workers they can hire. This can have the consequence of depressing wage growth. 

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Also, if the refugees aren’t buoyed enough by nonprofits, family and other community support, they can rely more heavily on social services as they transition into the American economy. However, successfully transitioned refugees often end up benefitting the tax base much more than they may have used these services initially to afford education, food, housing, and  healthcare. These afforded them the opportunity for gaining skills for higher wage jobs, more spendable income, and potential entrepreneurship, all of which increase their share of taxes.
What other steps can be taken that aren’t already being implemented? That seems to be wholly absent from this executive order. 

Realistically, this executive order is mostly window-dressing made to fulfill campaign promises. It’s not just careless, it’s without purpose and an objective that is neither achievable and not already functioning under the previous system. It is either designed to or through accident alone to create chaos, disruption, and insecurity. The only tangibles America has garnered from Trump’s action is a decrease in national security and a buoy for the terrorists and their propaganda. 

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