By Nathan Baumgartner
Immigration. Arguably one of the most divisive words in US-American society as of late, this controversial concept in and of itself since this country even began to be recognized as an independent state has become controversial yet again through the introduction of an executive order by the President of the United States. In this executive order, the President has announced a 90-day ban on travel from seven countries located in the Middle East (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Sudan and Somalia) as well as a 120-day “delay” of the processing of asylum applications, mainly targeting those wishing to flee Syria and the near-constant civic and political strife faced by a majority of Syrians regardless of their location in the country. As a result, many foreign leaders have rightfully expressed their utter disdain and concerns for such a policy maneuver, with some threatening to issue travel bans against US citizens in retribution and consequently putting the global reputation and standing of the United States in jeopardy.
The most noteworthy aspect of this is that none of the countries on this list fell host to people responsible for carrying out the attacks of 11 September, 2001. Despite the President’s promises that this would result in the immediate crackdown of “Islamic extremism” supposedly “rapidly entering this country,” the countries of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and others from which the perpetrators of these terrorist attacks originated are not encompassed in this executive order. How can any rational human being label such an executive order as preventing another 9/11 when the countries of the perpetrators of the attack are not included?
This has led many people to rightfully assume that this executive order originates out of fear and Islamophobia. It is important to realize that Islam itself is not inherently violent, much in the same way Judaism or Christianity or Buddhism are not inherently violent. Yet all of these belief systems, for a variety of reasons, have given way to extremist sects which individually identify with a larger movement. The issue is not with the belief system itself, but with how it becomes interpreted by individuals. The ability for social groupings like Daesh (Islamic State) to assist in self-radicalization of individuals, which largely happens in developed countries amongst second- or third-generations of immigrants to these areas of the world through “hidden” online websites and web page caches, is unfortunately tremendous and quite lucrative when we hear news of US-led coalitions gaining territory from the Islamic State. It gives them an opportunity to promulgate their propaganda where people have the means to experience it; technological infrastructure remains steadily high in the developed world, leading to tremendous opportunities on a variety of platforms and markets but also profound risks in cyber-security which can be exploited by individuals. This process of self-radicalization and the facilitating factors through which such thought can be conveyed have contributed greatly to attacks in western Europe, the United States, and Turkey, and shows no signs of stopping in the near future.
To say that the United States has been unequivocally changed, for better or for worse, by immigration should be just as obvious as saying that the sky is blue. For a person whose descendants were immigrants, whose wife is an immigrant, and benefits so greatly from immigration, our President has used cheap labor under minimum wage to help construct various construction projects in the United States and continuously sources goods from developing countries designed to bolster his movement against the political elite. This shows the amount of privilege which has begun to enter the executive branch of the United States government.
Though I would agree with the concept that anyone can affect positive change in the world regardless of socioeconomic status, we are not seeing that with the President of the United States. A person clearly benefitting from increased socioeconomic disparity in the United States, as evidenced through a Gini coefficient reaching levels not seen since the 1920s, has no personal incentive to do that. Though I cannot and will not analyze the thought process going on in our President’s head, it must be nice to sit in the Oval Office with a detail of Secret Service agents ensuring that his life is protected to the best of their ability all the while millions of people throughout the world live in constant fear of persecution – and potentially death – because of dissenting political opinion and religious belief. This policy reeks of the President’s background of constant privilege – be it social, economic, or political – as well as the realities behind any informed foreign policy and the lack of any knowledge thereof on the behalf of our President.
In reforming immigration policy, we must ensure that sweeping generalizations of people upon any distinctive trait be eliminated from public policy. Only then can we even begin to realize that justice will be met for people regardless of religious belief, socioeconomic status, or even political belief. We also need to refocus and recalibrate our political objectives not just as a country, but as an important factor to the international community. When areas of the world experience constant civil and political strife for the better part of six years, we must do our best to ensure that we do as much as we can in our authority as a prosperous nation – we are classified as a developed country per many international statistical databases – to tackle such threats to the international status quo.
Consequently, I do not view travel bans placed by other countries on US citizens as “unwarranted” or “unjust.” Just as the President’s executive order indicates a severe flaw in his ability to accurately and intelligently construct a feasible and sustainable foreign policy designed to counter the potential of “Islamic extremism” in an ever-increasingly international world, actions taken in response to such a policy indicate that policy initiatives undertaken by the United States will not go unpunished or unnoticed. We cannot do what we want, nor should we feel like we have the authority to do so in an increasingly interconnected political climate.
Though most international strife occurs an ocean away, not all of it does. The Northern Triangle – an area of land in Central America encompassing territory under the governance of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – has undergone an ever-increasing pattern of gang activity, and thus, violence. This has compelled many people in this area to flee, travelling to the United States in search of better opportunities as evidenced through higher income per capita, higher human development index, and lower crime rates. Yet a majority of these people are considered “Mexican” by our President, reflecting a lack of intelligence – and utter disregard for – events happening in Central America which have implications on our own country, whether we like it or not. The construction of a proposed border wall without the consent of the President of Mexico, let alone the average citizen of Mexico, would likely remind the international community of the construction of a similar wall over 55 years ago: the Berlin Wall. The only difference this time: we would be the metaphorical Soviet Union and the rest of the Americas south of the United States would become the metaphorical West Berlin, ironic given the President’s commitment to bettering a relationship with the Russian Federation, itself faulty and likely to insure a metaphorical decapitation to our reputation in the international community.
As a group of people, US citizens have the possibility to enact profound social change throughout the world, regardless of whether we have the consent of the President or not. It was widespread discontent with what was viewed as a pointless war in Vietnam which led to the United States withdrawing from Vietnam. It was widespread discontent with an ever-growing military budget which influenced our decision to de-escalate our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we are seeing widespread discontent throughout many areas of this country, which I believe reflects our rich history – for better or for worse – founded on immigration, and the causes and effects thereof. I am proud of my immigrant roots. I realize that my family history in the United States began a matter of decades ago, not millennia ago like some people in this country can rightfully claim. We need to respond through donating to refugee services, which commit themselves to ensuring safety and prosperity of people fleeing persecution and coming to a country where they rightfully believe in a standard of living and protection which they cannot enjoy at home. Though the United States should pursue alleviating these issues and problems through intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations as well as non-governmental organizations like Oxfam and Amnesty International in the long run, a good short-term policy the United States should pursue (and has pursued in many cases) working with standards set by the United Nations – more specifically, the United Nations’ Commission for Human Rights – to sensibly take in those seeking refuge in a country as prosperous as the United States: despite being in a period of recession in certain segments of the economy for some time, our economic prowess is only matched by a handful of countries when comparatively analyzed. Thus, we must realize the current status quo: that refugees cannot come into this country just when they want, but only after a years-long process that attempts to ensure the protection of national security all the while providing comfort and protection from fear of persecution, at least nominally and without a direct choice of which country will process their application for asylum. An outright ban on the flow of immigration just keeps the problems posed in other parts of the world there: nominally good for an “America First” policy but increasingly bad in the long-run as other countries collectively take steps to reduce the United States’ international standing. And, perhaps most ironically, though the United States does pay airfare for asylum seekers to come to the United States, this system roughly equates to giving a loan, as it is expected that the individual refugee reimburse the United States for the cost of their ticket.
Perhaps the most important step we all can take comes through the increased support for refugees when our federal executive branch seems to discourage it. I commend the commitment of a variety of colleges and universities to announce their support of people who magically felt increasingly vulnerable in the aftermath of an ill-sighted and misguided executive order. I recommend Canisius College do the same. But perhaps the most important thing an individual can do is to go back in history and reflect upon World War II, more specifically upon the Nazi persecution of Jews and other minorities such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, the disabled and the LGBT community throughout Nazi-occupied territory. These people were used as a scapegoat in a variety of ways, blamed for stabbing the Germans in the back in the aftermath of World War I and thus causing an economic and social crisis in the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles. Instead of this thought being confined to Germany, it spread to the United States, where Jews were informally treated as inhumane and subhuman in a social milieu of nativism, isolationism and xenophobia. A boatload of Jews seeking refuge in the United States went from port city to port city, looking for help wherever they could. Unfortunately, they could not find it, and experienced a likely grim fate back in Europe. We could have mitigated the effects of an anger-filled policy abroad by taking in Jews which had a reasonable fear of persecution. Kristallnacht, as well as other events, were well-known to the literati of the United States throughout this period. Yet we did nothing on a massive scale to mitigate this. Much like the outbreak of World War II and its end, any action involving another country (or, in this case, countries) will not go unnoticed.
I don’t want a repeat of any of this. Do you?