Saturday, January 28, 2017

Who Should Get In?

So I mentioned this in an earlier post but tomorrow morning the middle school students from all the synagogue schools and the local day school are gathering for our annual Community Holocaust Education Day.  This is the result of several months of planning between all the education directors and principals of the aforementioned schools.  It turns out that our theme is refugees.  The morning will start with students getting an overview of both US laws (not including President Trump's recent Executive Order) and the Jewish values that would inform someone in a decision to allow someone seeking refugee status into the United States.  They will then, in groups, be given three real cases with changed names, to debate and choose one they will argue for in front of some volunteer judges.  The judges, all local attorneys and court judges, will decide if the arguments were strong enough.  When all groups have gone we will reveal who the people are.  Some famous for a variety of reasons.  The students will also see a play about MS St. Louis.  A story of Jewish refugees turned away from the United States in 1939 to have many died at the hands of the Nazis.  By the way if you want to feel the reality of this I suggest you follow The St. Louis Manifest Twitter feed.

I am not sure how we will explain the recent issues around refugees. President Trump's attempt to limit people coming to the US from 7 countries, with a caveat that he is actually prioritizing Christians over Muslims for future immigration is something beyond what I ever thought I would need to explain to students.   The ISIS leadership is killing anyone who doesn't follow their ideology and perversion of Islam, including other Muslims. Yet some how the current administration doesn't see this and sees a potential terrorist in every Muslim from the Middle East.   What is worse is the cavalier attitude of the President and many in the Republican Party seem to have toward even those people have already gone through serious vetting in part because they are  people who helped the US war effort in Syria against ISIS at the risk of their own lives.   They have been cleared for entry in the US and  some were literally on planes enroute to come to US who are now detained. It has caused average Americans to rally at airports and teams of lawyers to help people with valid VISAs to simply get through clearance into the US.  What is also frightening in scope is that permanent residents of the US with Green Cards are not being allowed to return to the US in the chaos of this order.

This is not normal for our country in the last 70 years.  We had learned our lesson after we saw the tortured Jews in camps, heard the horrors of gas chambers and mass graves.  Our country stood up with many others to take in those fleeing later atrocities around the world.  We weren't always perfect but we had a plan.  Today it seems the new President is blocking people who not only come from troubled places but only apparently interested in blocking people of one faith.  What is interesting about the decision is that the countries he chose have not been the origin of anyone who attempted or committed a major terror attack on the United States.  While citing September 11th's attacks in his order, the President left off the country who produced the leader of the attack's operations, (Egypt) and the majority of the terrorists who carried it out (Saudi Arabia).  It may be worth noting that both he and his Secretary of State nominee have business interests in those countries.

Now someone will bring up that during the Obama Administration there was a temporary ban on refugees from Iraq coming to the United States.  That is true.  In early 2009 it was discovered that two men who were involved in attacks on US troops in Iraq come to the US under refugee rules.  A system that hadn't been fully worked out at the time.  The President stopped all refugee applications from Iraq so that efforts could be made to see who may have slipped through the vetting process as it existed.  This was not ideal, however it was a targeted program with the intent of making sure that we weren't vulnerable. In 2006,  Waad Ramadan Alwan was arrested in Iraq and confessed to being an insurgent, but was released.  He later applied and received refugee status only to be uncovered as a terrorist in Kentucky years later.  It was after that the Obama administration worked to tighten security around Iraqi refugees and made the process of seeking refugee status much harder.  I remember meeting Iraqi refugees in Jordan in 2010.  There was a man who desperately wanted to come to the United States and after we spoke for sometime the refugee worker told me that was never going to happen.  He had been found to be connected to Saddam's Baathist party and he was a low priority.  He probably hasn't left Jordan, and that is okay with me.  Being concerned about who might be coming in and finding a troubling past is what we should be doing.  But the President's blanket banning of people from several countries that are at war, including those people who helped our troops navigate the language and culture of those places, for no reason except you think they MIGHT be terrorist or become terrorists is insane and anti-American.

We have seen horrible terror attacks on the US in recent years.  The thing is that the San Bernardino and Orlando attacks were committed by two people born in the United States and radicalized here.  The wife of the San Bernardino shooter was a foreign national, but from Pakistan (not on the list) who lived in Saudi Arabia.  This attacks were in part inspired by the notion that America was at war with Islam, a common message coming from groups like ISIS to those living in the west.  A message that will be bolstered by this Executive Order as it will be seen by many in the Muslim world as an attack on all Muslims.  As countries like Jordan (who has suffered terrorist attacks in the past) and Israel, who you may have heard has a bit of touchy relationship with Arabs in general, take in refugees fleeing the horrors of Syria the United States is blocking people who have helped our troops and their elderly parents and wives and children.  All of whom have spent at least two years being vetted.  That is simply wrong and that is not the America I was taught in school, nor experienced my entire life.

As a country we are always learning.  We haven't always gotten it right from a moral stand point.  We began with having slavery as a staple of the economy of the south, we blocked women from voting and many other areas open to men, we abused imported workers, drove the Native population to the brink of extinction, and not so long ago rounded up people and put them in camps for simply being born of Japanese decent.  But each time we learned.  We saw our consequences and tried to do better. When President Obama was faced with a crisis he didn't didn't take a sledge hammer to the problem and ban all refugees, he formed a targeted response with the intent of making the system better.  President Trump is trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist by banning the most vulnerable and least likely to to hurt our nation while ignoring the sources of previous terror attacks.  This is not about security, it is about ignorance, it is about hate and it is about a man who has no skills at being a real leader and hopes that if he throws enough tantrums that he will be admired by someone.

The fear and ignorance in the middle 20th century led to the US closing its door on Jews seeking to flee a tyrant that was certainly going to kill them.  The extent of that horror was found out way too late for 6 million Jews and 5 million others who died at the hands of the Nazi death machines.  There was enough blood for enough hands to never fully be clean because of it.  We are at a similar place now.  President Trump is fond of saying ISIS is chopping off heads in Syria and Iraq and that is true.  If today's order stands for any period of time, the President is sending them new heads to adorn their strongholds.  And Mr. President and your minions should know, that blood won't wash off even if using your gold plated fixtures.

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