By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the executive order on immigration and refugees that the President signed on Friday. It bans Syrian refugees from entering our country, suspends the entire refugee program for 120 days, cuts in half the number of refugees we can admit, and halts all travel from certain Muslim-majority countries.
I felt I had no choice but to speak out against it in the strongest possible terms.
This is a cruel measure that represents a stark departure from America’s core values. We have a proud tradition of sheltering those fleeing violence and persecution, and have always been the world leader in refugee resettlement. As a refugee myself who fled the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, I personally benefited from this country’s generosity and its tradition of openness. This order would end that tradition, and discriminate against those fleeing a brutal civil war in Syria.
There is no data to support the idea that refugees pose a threat. This policy is based on fear, not facts. The refugee vetting process is robust and thorough. It already consists of over 20 steps, ensuring that refugees are vetted more intensively than any other category of traveler.
The process typically takes 18-24 months, and is conducted while they are still overseas. I am concerned that this order’s attempts at “extreme vetting” will effectively halt our ability to accept anyone at all. When the administration makes wild claims about Syrian refugees pouring over our borders, they are relying on alternative facts — or as I like to call it, fiction.
The truth is that America can simultaneously protect the security of our borders and our citizens and maintain our country’s long tradition of welcoming those who have nowhere else to turn. These goals are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they are the obligation of a country built by immigrants.
Refugees should not be viewed as a burden or as potential terrorists. They have already made great contributions to our national life. Syrian refugees are learning English, getting good jobs, buying homes, and starting businesses. In other words, they are doing what other generations of refugees — including my own — did. And I have no doubt that, if given the opportunity, they will become an essential part of our American fabric.
By targeting Muslim-majority countries for immigration bans and by expressing a clear preference for refugees who are religious minorities, there’s no question this order is biased against Muslims. And when one faith is targeted, it puts us all at risk.
I will never forget sailing into New York Harbor for the first time and seeing the Statue of Liberty when I came here as a child. It proclaims “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” There is no fine print on the Statue of Liberty, and today she is weeping.
This executive order does not reflect American values. If you agree, make your voice heard now.
Former Secretary of State
JAN. 28, 2017
President Trump’s executive order closing the nation’s borders to refugees was put into immediate effect Friday night. Refugees who were in the air on the way to the United States when the order was signed were stopped and detained at airports.
The detentions prompted legal challenges as lawyers representing two Iraqis held at Kennedy Airport filed a writ of habeas corpus early Saturday in the Eastern District of New York seeking to have their clients released. At the same time, they filed a motion for class certification, in an effort to represent all refugees and immigrants who they said were being unlawfully detained at ports of entry.
Mr. Trump’s order, which suspends entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days, created a legal limbo for individuals on the way to the United States and panic for families who were awaiting their arrival.
Mr. Trump’s order also stops the admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely, and it bars entry into the United States for 90 days from seven predominantly Muslim countries linked to concerns about terrorism. Those countries are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.
It was unclear how many refugees and immigrants were being held nationwide in the aftermath of the executive order. The complaints were filed by a prominent group including the American Civil Liberties Union, the International Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center, the National Immigration Law Center, Yale Law School’s Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization and the firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.
The attorneys said they were not allowed to meet with their clients, and there were tense moments as they tried to reach them.
“Who is the person we need to talk to?” asked one of the lawyers, Mark Doss, supervising attorney at the International Refugee Assistance Project.
“Mr. President,” said a Customs and Border Protection agent, who declined to identify himself. “Call Mr. Trump.”
The executive order, which Mr. Trump said was part of an extreme vetting plan to keep out “radical Islamic terrorists,” also established a religious test for refugees from Muslim nations: He ordered that Christians and others from minority religions be granted priority over Muslims.
In the arrivals hall at Terminal 4 of Kennedy Airport, Mr. Doss and two other lawyers fought fatigue as they tried to learn the status of their clients on the other side of the security perimeter.
“We’ve never had an issue once one of our clients was at a port of entry in the United States,” Mr. Doss said. “To see people being detained indefinitely in the country that’s supposed to welcome them is a total shock.”
“These are people with valid visas and legitimate refugee claims who have already been determined by the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to be admissible and to be allowed to enter the U.S. and now are being unlawfully detained,” Mr. Doss said.
According to the filing, Hameed Khalid Darweesh was granted a special immigrant visa on Jan. 20, the same day Mr. Trump was sworn in. He worked with the United States in Iraq in a variety of jobs — as an interpreter, engineer and contractor — over the course of roughly a decade.
Mr. Darweesh worked as an interpreter for the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Baghdad and Mosul starting shortly after the invasion of Iraq on April 1, 2003. The filing said he had been directly targeted twice for working with the American military.
A husband and father of three, he arrived at Kennedy Airport Friday evening with his family. Mr. Darweesh’s wife and children made it through passport control and customs, but agents of Customs and Border Protection stopped and detained him.
Brandon Friedman, who worked with Mr. Darweesh as an infantry lieutenant with the 101st Airborne praised Mr. Darweesh’s work. “This is a guy that this country owes a debt of gratitude to,” Mr. Friedman said. “There are not many Americans who have done as much for this country as he has. He’s put himself on the line. He’s put his family on the line to help U.S. soldiers in combat and it is astonishing to me that this country would suddenly not allow people like that in.”
Mr. Friedman, who is chief executive of the McPherson Square Group, a communications firm in Washington, continued, “We have a moral obligation to protect and repay these people who risked their lives for U.S. troops.”
He said he feared for America’s military: “This not only endangers troops in the future, it endangers troops who are in combat now in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria wherever. If those interpreters and those fixers hear that the United States is not going to protect them then they don’t have any incentive to work with U.S. troops and there’s no way that we can operate without their support and assistance.”
“He is a brave individual and he cares about Iraq and he cares about the U.S.”
Mr. Alshawi was supposed to be reunited with his wife, who has been living in Texas. The wife, who asked to be identified by her first initial of D. out of concern for her family’s safety, wiped away tears as she sat on a couch in her sister’s house early Saturday morning, in a Houston suburb.
The woman, a 32-year-old who was born in Iraq, met her husband while both were students at a Baghdad college. The couple has one child — a 7-year-old son who is in first grade. The boy was asleep in the house at 3 a.m. Eastern time Saturday, oblivious to the fact that his father was in the United States, but under detention and the possible threat of return to Iraq.
Relatives crowded the living room in their pajamas and slippers, making and receiving phone calls to and from other relatives and the refugee’s lawyers. At times, D. was so emotional she had trouble speaking about her husband’s predicament.
She pulled out her cellphone and flipped through her pictures while seated on the couch. She wanted to show a reporter a picture she took of her son’s letter to Santa Claus. In November, at a Macy’s Santa-letter display at a nearby mall, the boy wrote out his wish: “Dear Santa: Can you bring my Dad from Sweden pls.” He has not seen his father in three years.
“I’m really breaking down, because I don’t know what to do,” she said. “It’s not fair.”
She and her relatives had not told her son that his father was finally coming to Houston and that his wish to Santa was about to come true. “It was a surprise for him,” she said.
Earlier in the day on Friday, she had watched news coverage about Mr. Trump’s executive order. “My husband was already on the airplane,” she said. “He got to the airplane at 11 o’clock in Houston time.” At that point, she grew worried about what impact the order would have on her husband, but she assumed it would not take effect immediately.
D., as well as her brother and her sister, asked that their full names not be used because they were concerned that publicity about the case would lead to harassment.
At about 2:30 a.m. Eastern time Saturday, Mr. Alshawi called his wife on her cellphone. They spoke for about five minutes. D. put the call on speaker so the rest of the family gathered at the house could hear. It was the first time D. and her husband spoke since he arrived at the airport in New York at about 8:30 p.m. Eastern timeFriday, she said. He flew from Stockholm to JFK Airport, and he was supposed to then fly from New York to Houston.
“He gave his package and his passport to an airport officer, and they didn’t talk to him, they just put him in a room,” she said. “He told me that they forced him to get back to Iraq. He asked for his lawyer and to apply for an asylum case. And they told him you can’t do that, you need to go back to your country.”
She said that the authorities at the airport told him that the president’s signing of the executive order was the reason he could not proceed to Houston.
D.’s brother added of the phone call with his brother-in-law, “He’s very calm but he’s, like, desperate. He said, ‘They are sending me there, they are sending me there,’ ” referring to Iraq.
JAN. 8, 2016 The New York Times
President Obama once said this about his administration’s deportation priorities: “We’ll keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. That means felons, not families. That means criminals, not children. It means gang members, not moms who are trying to put food on the table for their kids.”
Encouraging words, a year ago. But a new year has dawned upon an appallingcampaign of home raids by the Department of Homeland Security to find and deport hundreds of would-be refugees back to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The targets are those who arrived in a recent surge of people fleeing shockingly high levels of gang and drug violence, hunger and poverty and who offered themselves at the border to the mercy of the United States, but ultimately lost their cases in immigration court.
Since New Year’s, the administration has been sending agents into homes to make an example of the offenders and to defend the principle of a secure border. A president who spoke so movingly about the violent gun deaths of children here has taken on the job of sending mothers and children on one-way trips to the deadliest countries in our hemisphere. Mothers and children who pose no threat, actual or imaginable, to our security.
The Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, said in a statement: “Our borders are not open to illegal migration. If you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values.” He added: “This should come as no surprise. I have said publicly for months that individuals who constitute enforcement priorities, including families and unaccompanied children, will be removed.”
It’s no wonder that Donald Trump is applauding the policy, and taking credit for it.
But Mr. Johnson is wrong to suggest that frightened Central Americans are a border-security threat. It’s not illegal to go to the border and seek asylum, as these families have. And his defense of our “values” jarringly sidesteps vital questions — Why are people fleeing? And if they are desperate to escape their murderous homelands, what is the best response of the United States?
It’s certainly not home raids that send powerless individuals unjustly back to mortal danger and, as collateral damage, spread fear and panic in immigrant neighborhoods across the country. The homicidal brutality in Central America has spawned a humanitarian disaster, but the administration has been treating it as a Texas border-security emergency, and a political headache. Perhaps this is why its efforts at deterring the migrant flow have not succeeded. Families have taken the journey anyway, not because they are determined to flout our immigration laws — but because they want not to be murdered.
The administration needs to recognize that this problem cannot be solved in backward fashion. The answer lies not in sitting idly until refugees arrive and greeting them with family prisons and prosecution. It requires addressing the root causes of the bloody violence in the region, and fixing the chaotic, underfunded legal system at the border, where migrants with no money or lawyers — or with bad lawyers — confront the infernal complexities of immigration and asylum law, and lose. The administration should have long ago begun building routes of escape for families in danger, with safe havens and in-country screening for those seeking resettlement, in the United States or elsewhere in the region.
While federal agents have been knocking on doors and spreading fear, advocacy groups have been scrambling to help the Central Americans. Humanitarian projects like CARA, a cooperative effort of legal services organizations, and Raices, which has worked for years with refugees in Central and South Texas, have placed urgent calls for funds and volunteers. Protection, due process and outstretched arms for terrorized families: That’s an approach consistent with America’s laws and values, not agents at the door, on the hunt for mothers and children.
By Virginia Gibbs, PhD
I would like to address the current crisis on our southern border where thousands of children, alone
or accompanied by a family member , are entering the United States without documents. While the
borderlands are the flashpoint of the current situation, in order to understand who these children
are and why they are making the dangerous trip north, there are certain facts we need to know
about their countries of origin.
In recent times, most of the children and parents in immigration detention are from Central
America, specifically Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which are among the most violent
countries in the world. Honduras leads the entire world in homicide rates. In the past decade, the
influence of drug cartels, street gangs, human tra• cking and other forms of transnational crime
have weakened the governments and the law enforcement agencies of these nations to the point
where crimes are met with impunity, and police are often part of the problem . Simply put,
ordinary citizens have no protection from crime and abuse.
The very young are especially vulnerable to exploitation by powerful gangs. Boys in their early
teens or younger are approached and told to join a gang or they will be killed. Very young girls are
“claimed” by gangs as “girlfriends” and are raped and/or killed if they resist. And there is no help for
these children. The local police are too weak to protect them, and some police o• cers are
themselves part of the gangs. Not all the children coming north have been directly threatened by
gangs, though many have. Others have seen neighbors or young relatives killed. As the 19th century
Irish risked their lives to flee famine in their blighted homeland, many Central American parents are
willing to let their children make the dangerous trip north because they believe this is the only way
to keep them out of gangs and save their children’s lives.
When a person flees a country because of a wellfounded fear of harm, that person is called a
refugee. The United States has a legal process that gives people who arrive within our borders the
right to a hearing to determine whether or not he or she qualifies as a refugee and can remain in
the country. A large number of the children and their families who crowd our detention centers can
rightfully claim refugee status. Many people I talk to about immigration insist on the immediate
deportation of undocumented immigrants because “we are a nation of laws.” Indeed we are, and
when we don’t allow refugees proper legal representation and the legally required opportunity to
argue their cases, we are breaking our own laws and depriving them of their civil rights.
What makes this situation even worse are the moral implications of the ways we chose to treat
these children. In some cases, the immediate deportation will mean torture , rape and death. Other
boys and girls will be forcefully recruited into gangs and will probably lead short and violent lives.
And what about our own complicity in the current situation in Central America? Gun purchases are
heavily controlled in these countries, but the U.S. provides plenty of guns for the gangs and the
cartels of Central America. Drugs are big business especially with an enormous supply of consumers
north of the Rio Grande. One of the most dangerous gangs in Central America, the “Maras,” was
founded in Los Angeles by Salvadorans who then took it home. This is not to say that the U.S. is the
“culprit” of the current border situation. What it does mean is that there is not one unique cause or
one unique solution to our border crisis. There is a complicated system that involves both the U.S.
and the Central American nations.
But above all, for this moment , let’s not forget the children. They are afraid, they are often
fleeing for their lives, if they come from Central America they have already crossed hundreds of
miles full of peril to get here, and we have their destinies in our hands. They are human beings
searching for refuge in the U.S. so that they can live their lives free of constant threat. They are
not criminals , they are not carriers of strange diseases, they are small children and adolescents ,
and what we are facing on the border is a human rights crisis involving the most vulnerable. How
we treat these children will tell the world what kind of country we are.
Virginia Gibbs is a resident
of South Beach and a member of Central Oregon Coast NOW.