New York Times (Op-Ed)
By Anthony J. Blinken
June 05, 2017
President Trump’s eruption of tweets in response to the London terror attacks doubled down on his self-described travel ban: “We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the travel ban as an extra level of safety!”
Mr. Trump knows that banning travel to the United States from a half dozen Muslim-majority countries would do nothing to enhance our security — and everything to undermine it. The threat we face is mostly home grown. The perpetrators of recent attacks in Britain, France and Belgium were all citizens or longtime residents of those countries — and none of those attackers would have been subject to the ban had they wanted to bring terrorism to the United States. By alienating Muslim communities and our closest allies, Mr. Trump would destroy the partnerships we need to effectively fight terror.
Mr. Trump’s travel ban has never really been about security. Rather, it’s the tip of the spear in a much broader battle: to drastically curtail immigration to the United States that is changing the complexion of our country. One week before the London attacks, Mr. Trump waged his latest offensive in that effort at the meeting of the Group of 7 leading economic powers.
Taormina, the Sicilian coastal city that hosted the G7, has long been a playground for the jet set. But Italy chose the locale to spotlight a different dimension of the human condition: the hundreds of thousands of refugees who, in desperation, put their lives on the line to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa and the Middle East every year.
While Mr. Trump’s pronouncements on trade and climate change drew most of the attention, behind the scenes the drama over migration policy was just as intense — and just as far-reaching in its consequences.
We are in the midst of the largest wave of human displacement since World War II. Around the world, 65 million people — including 21 million refugees — are on the move, forced from home by war, violence, economic deprivation and climate change. If they all came together in one country, it would be about the size of Britain. Instead, they are spread across the planet — putting pressure on national borders; straining budgets, infrastructure and social services; reshaping economies and communities; affecting our sense of security; but most of all challenging us to live up to our common humanity.
Italy hoped the G7 would issue a detailed stand-alone policy statement and emphasize the obligation of developed nations to resettle more migrants and refugees, who on average spend 10 years away from their home countries. Most G7 members rallied behind Italy’s action plan and conviction that a global problem demands a global response.
The United States said no. The White House scuttled the stand-alone statement and sought to water down any migration references in the summit conference’s final communiqué — especially language that implied an obligation to take in more refugees. Only a furious effort by Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy preserved a bare-minimum mention of Italy’s proposed migration plan in the communiqué. That plan would have committed the G7 to find more permanent homes for refugees, increase financial assistance and support schooling for children and jobs for adults.
Back home, the Trump administration seeks to halve the number of refugees admitted each year while pressing its travel ban, which has been struck down by federal courts and may soon wind up before the Supreme Court. It has proposed draconian budget cuts for humanitarian and development assistance, diplomacy and the United Nations — whose agencies play a key role in supporting refugees and their host communities. And Mr. Trump returned from the G7 just in time to walk away from the Paris climate accord.
This completes the Washington’s own perilous journey: In less than one year, it has gone from mobilizing the international community in search of solutions to the migration crisis to a total abdication of leadership.
Just nine months ago, President Obama convened a special leaders summit meeting on refugees during the United Nations General Assembly. Fifty-two countries made commitments to increase their financial contributions to international humanitarian organizations by $4.5 billion over 2015 levels, double the number of refugees they resettle, and improve access to education for one million refugee children and to lawful work for one million adults. As well, 50 leading American companies committed to provide education opportunities for 80,000 refugees and employment possibilities for 200,000.
And the United States did more to lead by example, raising the ceiling on annual refugee admissions to 110,000, including 10,000 Syrians. That was not enough, but it was a step toward reclaiming America’s place as the last best hope on earth.
That hope gave life to my own family, as it did so many generations of new Americans.
My father’s father fled a pogrom in Russia in the early 20th century and was welcomed to the United States. So was my stepmother, who escaped as a young girl from Communist Hungary in 1950.
And then there was my stepfather, one of 900 children in his school in Bialystok, Poland, but the only one to survive the Holocaust, after four years in the concentration camps.
At the end of the war he made a break from a death march, into the Bavarian woods. Days later, he heard the rumbling sound of a tank and looked out from his hiding place. Instead of the dreaded swastika, he saw a five-pointed white star. He ran to the star. The tank’s hatch opened and a large African-American soldier looked down at him. He fell to his knees and said the only three words in English that he knew, taught to him by his mother: God bless America. The G.I. lifted him into the tank, into America, into freedom.
That’s who we are. That’s what America represents to the world, however imperfectly. And that’s what we now risk losing, piece by piece, with an administration that would keep that tank hatch slammed shut.
Antony J. Blinken (@ABlinken), a managing director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, was a deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration and is a contributing opinion writer.
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