By Chantal Berman
I wrote the commentary below a little more than a year ago, when the crude Republican vendetta against innocent victims of Syria’s civil war was just heating up.
What a difference a year can make. How far the causes of bullying, xenophobia, and outright cowardice have come.
On Friday, the new President signed an executive order indefinitely banning Syrian refugees, installing a 90-day entry ban for nationals of seven other Muslim-majority countries, and, for good measure, suspending the rest of the U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days.
Stunningly, the entry ban will apply to green card holders and dual citizens, meaning that the administration may deny entry to U.S. citizens. Already, refugees holding U.S. visas – refugees who have already been fully vetted – are being detained at U.S. airports. These cases include Iraqis who earned refugee status through their work with U.S. coalition forces in Iraq.
And late on Saturday night, a federal judge issued an emergency stay against the executive order, ruling that some 100-200 people currently detained in U.S. airports should not be deported. The fates of hundreds of thousands more – U.S residents and those who were about to become U.S. residents – hangs in the balance.
Protesters gathered at airports throughout the country. Some Democratic leaders are speaking out. Where are our Republican so-called representatives?
Yes, please call our Congressman, Rodney Frelinghuysen, in Morristown at (973) 984-0711, and in Washington D.C. at (202) 225-5034. (And call again on Monday – this whole mess was presumably timed to hit over the weekend, freeing our leaders from the unpleasantness of fielding our phone calls on day one.)
Voice your opinion. But don’t stop there. Demand to hear our representative’s position on these executive orders. Ask point blank whether Frelinghuysen believes it is lawful and just to stop visa holders and permanent residents from entering the United States. Whether Iraqis who risked their lives to work with U.S. forces in Iraq should be denied the right to live here.
We can’t allow our representatives to wait and see which way the wind is blowing on this one. If Representative Frelinghuysen believes these orders are just – let him say so openly.
If not, let’s all get on with the work of righting these wrongs together. These are core values and I hope that our Rep can be on our side this time.
Commentary: Morristown should welcome Syrian and Iraqi refugees
First published on Nov. 20, 2015.
On Thursday, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.) voted in support of the “American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act” – an effort to indefinitely halt all resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees to the United States.
We have all been shocked and outraged by the terrible attacks in Paris and Beirut last week. The so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS) currently occupying large parts of Syria and Iraq is a real and present threat to international security.
But we can’t allow fear and grief to cloud our judgment when it comes to smart solutions for global problems. This legislation is harmful to our town and it is counterproductive towards the overall goal of defeating ISIS.
In a press release, Congressman Frelinghuysen wrote that Syrian and Iraqi refugees pose a security threat to Americans, and that no refugees should be resettled “until we can be sure that the Obama Administration has installed a robust screening process.”
Does this justification hold water? All refugee applicants to the United States already go through 18-24 months of intense security screening coordinated by the United Nations refugee agency and the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
“The very Syrians and Iraqis who will suffer from this policy are our allies.”
Since 2001, 745,000 refugees (100,000 of them from Iraqi) have been resettled in the U.S., and only two of them have been arrested on terrorism charges. This makes refugees less likely to commit violent crimes than any other demographic group of Americans. The system in place is already keeping us safe.
But this legislation is not just unnecessary – it is actively harmful for U.S. diplomatic efforts in the Middle East. The very Syrians and Iraqis who will suffer from this policy are our allies. They hate the Islamic State more than we do; that’s why they are risking their lives in order to leave it.
By allowing refugees from ISIS to build a new life in the U.S., we are actively decreasing the potential pool of ISIS recruits. And more broadly, when it comes to “winning the hearts and minds” of citizens in the Arab and Muslim world, this legislation brings us backwards.
It tells ordinary Syrians and Iraqis who share our goal of a safe and prosperous Middle East that we are indifferent to their suffering. It makes our talk of democracy and security for the region sound cheap. And this has real consequences when it comes to cooperation in service of our most important foreign policy goals – defeating ISIS and other terrorist organizations, stopping nuclear proliferation, and ending the ongoing bloodshed in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Libya.
I first had the opportunity to spend time in Syria in 2007, as a student of Arabic and Middle East politics at the University of Damascus. My neighbors in Damascus reminded me in many ways of the Morristown where I grew up – diverse, tolerant, warm, and really obsessed with soccer.
Our town should welcome Syrians and Iraqis as our neighbors. Rejecting refugees because of the actions of a few outlaws who happen to share their faith does not represent the values of our community. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving – a holiday about live-saving aid to refugees of religious persecution – let’s make sure we can offer today’s refugees that same generosity.
Please call our Congressman and ask him to reconsider his position.
You can reach the Congressman’s office in Morristown at (973) 984-0711, and in Washington D.C. at (202) 225-5034.
Morristown native Chantal Berman is a PhD candidate in Politics at Princeton University, where she researches contemporary politics in the Middle East and North Africa. She has lived and worked in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia. Chantal has written about refugee policy in the Middle East for the Brookings Institution, the Middle East Institute, and the Costs of War Project.