Trump’s Refugee and Visa Ban is Morally Bankrupt

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

In a move diametrically opposed to the values the U.S. strives to promote, today President Trump is expected to sign the “Executive Order on Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals.” A draft of the executive order has been leaked, and it will halt refugee resettlement in addition to implementing a temporary ban on visas for individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries. Not only does the executive order seem to discriminate on the basis of religion, it represents a massive blow to refugees fleeing persecution, as my own grandparents did some 80 years ago. Unless the U.S. is to repeat past mistakes with deadly consequences, we must speak out against this executive order and our elected representatives must take action.

With respect to visas, in 30 days the U.S. will impose a 30-day pause on visas issued to individuals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. During this period, officials will investigate whether individuals from those countries are being properly screened. While it is not exactly clear what sort of vetting will meet those standards, if the screening process is not judged to be sufficient after this initial investigatory period, an indefinite ban on visas issued to individuals from those countries will be implemented. However, according to the Cato Institute, not a single American has been killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil conducted by individuals from these seven countries since 1975. Furthermore, although this measure does not target all Muslim countries, the wholesale halt of visas for individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries is a dangerous step in the direction of President Trump’s blatantly discriminatory “Muslim ban” campaign promise.

The other major component of the executive order is a 120-day ban on refugee resettlement. During this period, the Secretary of State will review refugee admittance procedures in an attempt to ensure no individuals will be admitted that pose threats to national security. After that period, refugees will continue to be banned from countries that are judged to lack adequate safeguards. Whatever the outcome of these reviews, the total annual refugee admittance will be slashed from 120,000 refugees to 50,000, leaving U.S. support to refugees far below that of similar countries.

However, the executive order provides for exceptions for religious minorities, most likely intending to cover Middle Eastern Christians. These applicants are certainly worthy recipients of refugee status. Still, Muslims deserve assistance, too. The vast majority of victims of violence in the Middle East have been Muslims and, far from supporting terrorists, they are often the ones most threatened by them. Since religious minorities have been deemed safe enough to continue entering the U.S., the implication that Muslims are severely threatening security while Christians are not is discriminatory and in violation of American standards of religious freedom.

Further, the provisions on refugees hinge on a faulty assumption that the refugee resettlement program poses a security threat. Refugees are the most heavily screened entrants to the U.S. and there are almost no cases of refugees conducting terrorist attacks. The resettlement process takes 18 to 24 months, including extensive background checks and in-person interviews. The U.N. uses a needs-based process to allocate applicants to one of 28 host countries, and refugees do not choose which country they go to. Were someone planning to attack the U.S., it is not likely that they would choose to use the path that would make them wait two years, subject them to extensive investigation, and give them a marginal chance of even being placed in the U.S.

This unfounded fear of refugees is hardly new. Prior to World War II, many Americans believed German Jews were communists or German spies, a fear shared by President Roosevelt. In 1939, a poll asked Americans whether they would support admitting 10,000 German Jewish children. 61% of respondents opposed the idea.

My grandparents were among these German Jewish refugees. The reluctance of the U.S. and others to accept Jews made it difficult to flee, and both my grandparents were exceptionally fortunate to find ways out. My grandfather required a friend’s aunt in San Francisco to put up the equivalent of $90,000 in today’s money to demonstrate that he would not be a financial burden on the U.S. My grandmother’s family used an archaic 19th-century law allowing the entrance of German dentists to Britain.

Their family members that remained in Germany were all killed. These cases were hardly unique. The U.S. turned away over 900 Jewish refugees on the S.S. St. Louis, most of whom were later killed by the Nazis. Anne Frank’s family were denied visas to the U.S., and as most of us know, she later died in a concentration camp.

It is not as if the period before the Holocaust had a moral clarity today does not. According to the U.N., there are more refugees in the world today than there have ever been, and the need to assist them is just as clear. Discriminating against groups based on their religion is just as wrong as it has ever been. Average citizens like ourselves must take immediate action, making clear that the U.S. is better than this and pushing our representatives to say the same.

These lawmakers, including Senators Bob Casey and our Representative Bob Brady, must forcefully speak out against these measures. Governor Tom Wolf should state that Pennsylvania remains committed to religious freedom and open to refugees. For his part, Senator Pat Toomey should make amends for his past calls to halt refugee resettlement, recognizing the unfounded security concerns on which these calls were based. These elected officials should use their platform to make it clear that President Trump’s executive order must quickly be reconsidered.

If these officials do not speak out, their silence will have a message of its own. It will say that they support misplaced fears and bigotry over assisting some of the world’s most vulnerable people. It will say that early steps towards a “Muslim ban” do not concern them. It will say that they have no problem with history repeating itself and that if they were living in the 1930s, they would think people like my grandparents were just too great a security threat. They would have thought that if my grandparents and their families couldn’t get out of Nazi Germany, it wouldn’t be America’s problem.

To call your representatives:

Senator Bob Casey: 202-224-6324

Senator Pat Toomey: 202-224-4254

Representative Bob Brady: 202-225-4731

Governor Tom Wolf: 717-787-2500

Featured image courtesy of MPR News.


  1. C’mon. Being a Muslim majority country is not the only reason they were chosen. They are all known to harbor terrorists and ISIS has literally said they will bring operatives over anytime we take refugees. There is a HUGE difference between refugees from those areas and refugees during the Holocaust. Not to mention very different situations in regards to making them refugees, there was no concern that taking in Jews would result in terrorist attacks on our homeland.

    • Hi “Anonymous,”

      Thanks for taking the time to read the article, and I thought I could reiterate some of the points you may have missed. As for the countries with visa bans, it is true that some of those countries have significant jihadist presences, though that is less the case in Sudan and certainly Iran. But so do Belgium and France, for that matter, and no one would suggest we halt all visas from those countries. As I noted in the article, there hasn’t been a single death from terrorism on American soil perpetrated by individuals from the seven countries with wholesale visa bans since 1975, which hardly seems to warrant punishing all individuals from those countries. Going back to your point about Muslim-majority countries, the fact that there is a religious minority exception written into the refugee clauses designed to allow Christians into the country without these extra security precautions suggests that discrimination against Muslims has something to do with this executive order.

      Your argument that “there was no concern that taking in Jews would result in terrorist attacks on our homeland” ignores historical fact. Americans did have significant fears about Jews posing security threats. And it was actually the case that some German spies did pose as refugees, but I don’t think you would argue that these small security threats warranted keeping out the vast majority of legitimate refugees. In many ways the security threat actually was greater then, as there is almost no evidence of refugees conducting terrorist attacks or terrorists posing as refugees. Just because ISIS has said they plan to infiltrate the refugee program doesn’t mean they have tried or could succeed, and the extensive security procedures we have now (far greater than when Jewish refugees were coming) would ensure those intending to conduct terrorist attacks would not make it through. Last, I don’t really understand your point about “very different situations in regards to making them refugees.” Though wars in countries like Syria and Somalia may not reach the scale of the Holocaust, I don’t think any reasonable person can doubt there were serious threats to their lives that forced refugees to live.

      I think the utility of the Holocaust example is that almost no person today would argue that it was morally right to keep out Jewish refugees, even though many Americans feared they were a security threat. If we carry over the standards that justified taking in Jewish refugees then, the choice today has a clearly moral answer as well.

    • Please, check, re-read, or just read paragraph 5-6.

      Plus, terrorists around the world have really found a new way to brutally oppress or massacre the people however they like, haven’t they? Just declare they will send operatives disguised as refugees. It guarantees no country will take the refugees, which locks most of the refugees into their full control. And what’s best? That takes NO effort. They don’t even need to do anything to make the entire world voluntarily submit to their power. That sounds nice. Even the US couldn’t be effective and powerful as that.

  2. You express the case for action very compellingly. I will make these calls and have posted to my Facebook page to encourage others to consider doing so in their home states. Thank you for speaking up in this space.

  3. Making the calls today. It is ESSENTIAL to the soul of our nation that the people of America fight this immoral, treasonous, un-American executive order.

    This anti-immigrant bullshit has come up about once every fifty years (on average) for the last 250 years. “No Irish Need Apply”, anyone? Chinese Exclusion Act? Why do we keep doing this while we LITERALLY have a giant statue in New York that invites people in? I believe that it’s nothing more than animalistic fear, and that it is both un-American and borderline treasonous to place these insane, racist restrictions on immigration.

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