US refugee ban: Trump decried for 'stomping on' American values
Donald Trump is facing strong criticism from aid organisations after ending his first week as president with a ban on all Syrian refugees entering the US and a halt on arrivals from a string of predominantly Muslim countries.
The president signed an executive order to stop all refugee arrivals for four months and Syrian arrivals indefinitely on Friday, hours after meeting the British prime minister, Theresa May, and reportedly reaffirming his commitment to Nato.
The move, which he described as “extreme vetting” intended to “keep terrorists out”, was more severe than expected. It will amount to a de facto ban on Muslims traveling to the US from parts of the Middle East and north Africa by prioritising refugee claims “on the basis of religious-based persecution”.
The order has already reportedly blocked people from flying into US airports or clearing customs after arriving in the country. The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee said people who had landed after the order was enacted at 4.30pm had been blocked and told they had to return to their point of origin.
Named the Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, the order places a 90-day block on entry to the US from citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia. It is unclear whether the measure would apply to citizens of those countries on trips abroad who already have permission to live and work in the US.
The order also caps the total number of refugees entering the US in 2017 to 50,000, less than half the previous year’s figure of 117,000.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and International Organization for Migration (IOM) called on the Trump administration to continue offering asylum to people fleeing war and persecution, saying its resettlement programme was vital.
“The needs of refugees and migrants worldwide have never been greater and the US resettlement programme is one of the most important in the world,” the Geneva-based agencies said in a joint statement.
They said the US’s acceptance of refugees had offered a double benefit, “first by rescuing some of the most vulnerable people in the world and second by enabling them to enrich their new societies”.
Chuck Schumer, Democratic leader in the Senate, said: “Tears are running down the cheeks of the Statue of Liberty tonight as a grand tradition of America, welcoming immigrants, that has existed since America was founded, has been stomped upon.
“Taking in immigrants and refugees is not only humanitarian but has also boosted our economy and created jobs decade after decade. This is one of the most backward and nasty executive orders that the president has issued.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations announced it would be filing a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the order “because its apparent purpose and underlying motive is to ban people of the Islamic faith from Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States”.
“There is no evidence that refugees the most thoroughly vetted of all people entering our nation are a threat to national security,” said Lena F Masri, the council’s litigation director. “This is an order that is based on bigotry, not reality.”
Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani campaigner for girls’ education who survived an attempted murder by the Taliban when she was 15, said she was “heartbroken” that America was “turning its back on a proud history of welcoming refugees and immigrants the people who helped build your country, ready to work hard in exchange for a fair chance at a new life”.
She added: “I am heartbroken that Syrian refugee children, who have suffered through six years of war by no fault of their own, are singled out for discrimination.”
Madeline Albright, the former US secretary of state, said: “There is no fine print on the Statue of Liberty. America must remain open to people of all faiths and backgrounds.”
She was referring the inscription of the iconic New York landmark: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
As well as halting Syrian arrivals indefinitely, the president’s order suspends the admittance of all refugees to the US for 120 days. In Syria alone, the nearly six-year war under Bashar al-Assad’s regime has led to more than 500,000 civilian deaths and displaced an estimated 11 million Syrians.
Although Trump administration officials continue to insist the president’s actions are not targeted at any one faith, the text of the order made explicit that, when the 120-day suspension ended, the US government would prioritize religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries.
It states: “Upon the resumption of USRAP [US Refugee Admissions Program] admissions, the secretary of state, in consultation with the secretary of homeland security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.”