The Hill (Op-Ed)
By Suzanne Akhras-Sahloul and Catherine Orsborn
January 31, 2017
"We were wrong."
That's how then-Deputy Secretary of State William Burns summarized one of the most notorious episodes in the history of American refugee policy. In 1939, the MS Saint Louis carried 937 Jewish refugees toward our shores. President Franklin Roosevelt's administration denied the ship access to the U.S., forcing it to return to Europe. A third of the passengers died at Auschwitz.
More than seven decades later, Burns apologized on behalf of the United States.
So too, will a future American president one day apologize for the executive order signed by President Trump.
There are more displaced persons in the world today than any even during World War II. Trump's response? He signed an executive order that placed a 120-day moratorium on any refugees entering the country, an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria specifically and a ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries (including Syria), while making exceptions for religious minorities.
Syrian refugees have already managed to survive the relentless bombing and shelling of their homes, businesses, hospitals and schools. They have suffered through the world's worst humanitarian crisis today — and now, they are singled out for punishment.
It gets worse. The president's actions also single out an entire group of people for discrimination based on their religion. According to the draft order, Trump will instruct U.S. officials to prioritize admissions of non-Muslim refugees who are fleeing their countries because of religious persecution. The targeting of Muslim-majority countries for restrictions and the exemptions provided to non-Muslims amounts to the "Muslim ban" Trump campaigned on.
We want to introduce you to one refugee affected by this order.
Eiman was recently resettled in Chicago with her three children and daughter-in-law. She is awaiting the arrival of her oldest son, his wife and their newborn daughter. They are supposed to be arriving any day now from Jordan. They have gone through all of the medical tests, plus the cultural and language orientations.
Eiman and her family have been thoroughly vetted by our already strict processes. She was interviewed multiple times by various agents and officials asking questions about her life in Syria, her profession, her neighbors and why she left Syria, and she was also fingerprinted. She did not know why she was being asked so many questions, but she complied, hoping it will help her family members get resettled.
Now, she wonders if she will be reunited with her son and her new granddaughter.
What would you tell Eiman and her family?
The truth is that the United States has a strong history of welcoming refugees and our values reject any type of religious test. Trump's executive order is not only contrary to our values, but it will ultimately make the United States less safe. We should go after terrorists based on evidence, not single out an entire group based on religion. The U.S. is wrongly targeting Muslims and reinforcing the idea that we are in a holy war with Islam.
Can such a policy lead to anything other than more terrorism?
We must raise our voices now and defend our values. We do not ban people from the country based on religion. We welcome refugees fleeing violence and persecution. We must not let fear and lack of understanding divide us. We are strongest as a nation when we reaffirm our values.
This isn't about political party or religious background. People of all faiths and political ideologies must come together to defend our American ideals.
"To the survivors of the MS St. Louis, on behalf of the president and secretary of State," Burns said in 2012, "I am honored to say what we should've said so long ago: welcome."
Let's say "welcome" when it matters the most: now.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com