January 30, 2017 – President Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees is a shameful act by the United States government on many fronts.
Issued on January 27, 2017 and without forewarning, it mandates an immediate four-month suspension to America’s refugee program, banning all refugees to the US, allowing the government time to re-assess how refugees are vetted. In particular, it prevents entry of Syrian nationals as refugees, until such time as President Trump determines sufficient changes have been made to the United States Refugee Admissions Program.
The order, entitled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” coincides with the anniversary of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, established by the UN as the date for member nations to honor the memory of Holocaust victims. Resolution 60/7 commemorates the genocide that resulted in the death of an estimated 6 million Jews, as well as another 500,000 individuals, by the Nazi regime. President Trump’s order hearkens back to the turning away of the SS St. Louis, a ship of Jewish refugees refused entry into the U.S. in 1939, many of whom later perished in the Holocaust.
It effectively prevents the entry of scores of refugees, including those who arrived at U.S. airports, were in transit to the U.S., or were preparing to board flights to the country, including Syrian refugees, and Iraqis who provided aid to U.S. forces, and have already been vetted and approved under the previous administration. These are immigrant refugees, recognized by the United States, who are fleeing war-torn countries and hold valid visas for which they have undergone years of extensive screening and processing, including multiple layers of international background checks. These individuals could be forced to return to displacement camps while the government re-assesses its undefined policies.
The order also blocks entry into the United States for 90 days of citizens from seven predominantly-Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. None of these countries have had a citizen involved in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, raising questions about the order’s effectiveness. Initially, even those with US Green Cards were included in the order, however the U.S. administration backed away from this in the face of mounting pressure. The executive order also cuts in half to 50,000 the number of refugees to be admitted to the U.S. in 2017.
The ban will not affect Canadian citizens with dual nationality in one of the listed countries. It will take days before it is known with certainty whether Canadian permanent residents travelling on a passport of a country listed in the executive order, are affected.
The Canadian government, along with provincial and municipal government leaders, as well as civil libertarians worldwide, have voiced outrage at this controversial act. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcometoCanada”. Trudeau came to power in 2015 on the basis of an election promise which resulted in the re-settlement of some 40,000 Syrian refugees.
The executive order follows President Trump’s general election campaign promise and was put into effect without instruction and orderly coordination between the affected agencies, forcing U.S. border officials to struggle with its application. A cloud of uncertainty surrounding how the administration is to carry out the order will affect thousands of dual citizen nationals.
In 2011, the US State Department stopped processing Iraq refugee requests for six months after the Federal Bureau of Investigation uncovered evidence that several dozen terrorists from Iraq had infiltrated the U.S. via the refugee program. Currently, in the absence of a credible threat that vetted refugees, and particularly those from Syria, pose an immediate risk, banning U.S. government-approved refugees is troubling. Successful court challenges have already been initiated. A federal judge in Brooklyn issued a nationwide stay, blocking part of the president’s actions and preventing the government from deporting some arrivals who found themselves ensnared by the presidential order. Justice Ann Donnelly wrote that sending the travellers home could cause them “irreparable harm”. She said the government was “enjoined and restrained from, in any manner and by any means, removing individuals” who had arrived in the U.S. with valid visas or refugee status.
One of Canada’s darkest days came when it pursued a policy of ‘none is too many’ in response to millions of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. But it must not stand idly by and close its eyes in the face of what appears to be illegal action taken by the Trump administration, barring entry to the U.S. of a number of persecuted individuals.
Prime Minister Trudeau should now give effect to the government’s position by immediately issuing temporary resident permits to these displaced refugees, including Syrians, estimated to affect between 300 and 500 individuals. It should also consider suspending its participation in The Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which mandates the governments of both countries to share responsibility for providing protection to refugees who arrive at their borders. If the U.S. is denying access to approved and vetted refugees, it is arguably violating the 2004 agreement. Canada is unlikely to take this stand as it tries to minimize the effect of further measures the Trump administration plans to invoke, including the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The U.S. is Canada’s largest trading partner.
The latest policies paint the U.S. as anti-Islamic. The only people celebrating these perverse policies are the extremists, the very individuals Trump is trying to keep out. Allies of the U.S. in Europe have voiced unanimous objection to these policies. Canada is now in position to lead a concerted rejection by giving immediate entry to all displaced individuals, not just the minimal number stranded at the Canada-U.S. border. Sadly, this is an unlikely outcome.
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