Saturday, February 04, 2017

Thoughts on Immigration

I'm relieved that Trump's Executive Order has been put on hold, and yet I know that the issues relating to immigration are far from over.

For the record, I do believe that our country has the right to bar entry to those who wish to do us harm. I also believe that our government has an obligation to guard the safety of our citizens. But I can't believe that Trump's Executive Order was intended that way.

If he had cited recommendations from one or more of our intelligence agencies, based on a specific threat, I would support a temporary hold on issuing visas. That's not at all what happened here. Instead, our government REVOKED 60,000-100,000 existing visas, impacting thousands of people (including green card holders) who were enroute to the US at the time that the EO took effect.

I really only see two possible ways to interpret what happened last weekend:

  1. The goal was to deliberately sow chaos and fear and division.
  2. The drafting and implementation of the EO was just mind-bogglingly inept.

Neither of these possibilities is good.

The fact of the matter is that our safety is FAR more likely to be impacted by our fellow Americans than it is by immigrants. It's convenient to talk about Orlando and San Bernardino, while overlooking Aurora and Charleston and Sandy Hook, just as Trump expressed his outrage about the knife attack at the Louvre, while saying NOTHING about the victims in Quebec. Meanwhile, he's redirecting and renaming the government program that focuses on "Countering Violent Extremism" to "Countering Islamic Extremism" which means that white supremacists are no longer part of that mission. So yeah, I'm sure Trump's only agenda is keeping us safe...

Ultimately, I believe our strength as a country isn't based on zero-sum, win-lose ideology. Immigration is a win-win. Immigrants and refugees benefit from being welcomed here, AND SO DO WE. Morally, strategically, culturally, and economically.

So I want to wrap up my comments with a quote from Bishop Ough's statement, which I have attached below:
"Refugees and immigrants arrive among us, not only with their needs, but also bearing gifts of energy, resourcefulness, love of liberty and hope. These gifts have always contributed to the renewal of our society and the church."

Statement from Madeleine Albright:
Most of you have seen the draft executive order on immigration and refugees that the President is expected to sign. If signed as written, it would ban Syrian refugees from entering our country, suspend the entire refugee program for 120 days, cut in half the number of refugees we can admit, and halt all travel from certain Muslim countries.

Having looked at the draft, I felt I had no choice but to speak out against it in the strongest possible terms.

In doing so, I want to make three points.

First, it 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. It does not represent who we are as a country.

Second, this measure would directly harm our security interests. As you all know, the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East poses an extraordinary threat to the stability of that region and to our allies in Europe. We need to be doing more, not less, to alleviate the problem – and one important way to do that is to accept a modest number of thoroughly vetted refugees. The signing of this executive order would send a terrible signal to our allies in Europe and in the Middle East, who will now have an excuse to do less. It will also be a gift to ISIS, which has been telling Muslims around the world that the west is their enemy. I have no doubt they will use this order as propaganda to support that claim.

Third, 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 certain burden or 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.

Yesterday, I tweeted about my own background. I was raised a Catholic, married an Episcopalian and then found out I was Jewish. I said in my tweet that should a registry of Muslims be instituted by this administration, I would add my name to such a list.

Such a registry is not included in the language of this order, but 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.

When I came here as a child, I will never forget sailing into New York Harbor for the first time and seeing the Statue of Liberty. 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 because of the actions of President Trump.

Statement from Bishop Ough - United Methodist Council of Bishops:
Today, I stand with colleagues representing several faith traditions to strongly denounce President Trump’s widespread attack on immigrants and refugees. President Trump’s reckless, ill-conceived executive orders will divide families, impose a religious test for Muslims facing forced migration, penalize communities providing sanctuary and wall off the United States from our neighbors. These actions are expensive, unnecessary and profoundly antithetical to our values of compassion, dignity and justice for all individuals regardless of nationality, religious affiliation or legal status.

The biblical witness is clear and unambiguous. Walls are unbiblical. Hospitality is biblical. Denying one’s neighbor is unbiblical. Welcoming the stranger is biblical. It is not surprising that Judaism, Christianity and Islam teach the reign of God as a banquet to which all peoples are invited. We are to welcome the sojourner, love our neighbor and stand with the most vulnerable among us. These very values from our sacred texts and faith traditions are currently reflected in the mandate of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and must not be usurped by any executive order. Orders, legislation or administrative actions that would have the U.S. State Department disqualify refugees from protection and resettlement based on their nationality or religion are a denial of the very principles this nation was built upon, contradict the legacy of leadership our country has offered the world, and dishonor our shared humanity.

Jesus was explicit in his teachings. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40).

Refugees and immigrants arrive among us, not only with their needs, but also bearing gifts of energy, resourcefulness, love of liberty and hope. These gifts have always contributed to the renewal of our society and the church.

Above all, these strangers bring to us the Christ. When we welcome a stranger we welcome Jesus, and when we welcome Jesus we welcome our creator. Refugees, immigrants, those yearning to be free—these are the ones whom Jesus spoke about when he said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35).

Repeatedly Jesus tells his disciples:

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

The original Greek language is far more poetic, powerful and prophetic. In finer translations of the Greek language, we hear Jesus saying:

“Whoever seeks to build a wall around their soul shall destroy it; whoever tears down the wall (around their soul) shall bring their soul to a living birth.”

The very soul of our country is at stake. When we abandon strangers who are at risk of bigotry, xenophobia and violence we not only destroy their hope, we destroy our own souls. When we fail to assist the refugees fleeing danger, we not only place them in harm’s way, we do harm to our own souls. When we build walls of concrete, or walls of divisive rhetoric, or walls of fear, or walls of immoral immigration policies, we build a wall around our own souls.

Christ calls us to tear down the walls around our souls that we might live fully and abundantly. Thus, I call on the Trump administration and the U.S. Congress to rescind the harmful executive orders and save the soul of our country. I call upon the people of The United Methodist Church to see the face of Christ in the refugee. Say “no” to the walling off of our country and our hearts and say “yes” to their hope – our hope – for new life. Let us unite and work together to bring the soul of this country to a living birth!
The Muslim Ban Executive Order – An Open Letter to President Trump
Dear President Trump:

Let me introduce myself. First and foremost, I voted for you in the most recent election. I’ve been a staunch conservative much of my adult life. I’ve been active in many GOP advocacy groups, both in the US and in Europe. I am a US immigration attorney. I’m also an entrepreneur and small business owner. My law practice and other business interests span the US and Europe. I was in the Brussels airport days before it was bombed. Thus, I am keenly aware of citizen fears surrounding immigration security, both here and abroad.

I may have been the only US immigration attorney in this election that voted for you. My colleagues certainly lean to the “left” when it comes to immigration policy. I voted for you, because after 8 years of stagnant progress on necessary immigration reform, I thought you were the best candidate to bring some “balance to the force”, that in turn would break the stalemate in DC surrounding immigration reform. I recognize we are a country of laws, and that immigration works best when good laws are followed and processes honored. In fact, many of my immigration clients who have “followed the rules” often express that sentiment themselves. I also recognize that an important aspect of immigration law is ensuring domestic security. When immigration processes are not effective, bad things happen, like 9/11. This in turn causes an exponential “backlash” against immigration, and we regress as a diverse country as a result. For the past eight years, not enough attention has been focused on bringing orderly structure back to immigration law, such that the US citizenry would gain confidence in the benefits of healthy immigration. The security aspect of immigration law was also diluted as a governmental concern. It was my hope that you would change that dynamic, in a way that would get both sides of the aisle recognizing the valid concerns each side of the immigration reform debate have. That in turn would bring about much necessary progress on that subject.

With that background, I must confess that I am gravely disappointed with the application of what is being termed your Muslim ban Executive Order. You have gone on record today stating that it is not a Muslim ban. In proper context, you are right. I’ve studied your order, and it applies to everyone from the affected countries, regardless of faith, and regardless of status. That very aspect of it makes it even more appalling. Ensnared in your order, are many persecuted individuals and families who were in the process of obtaining visas and green cards based on that persecuted status. Religious minorities in Iraq and Iran who are viewed as “apostates” under the predominant religious authorities. Individuals who have assisted our US military and placed themselves in grave danger as a result. Green card holders who have established exemplary residence in the United States and have made tremendous contributions to their communities. All now excluded from the United States, or detained within the United States, when they were already granted or promised the right to be here. For many of these wonderful folks, time is of the absolute essence, and 90 days can be a matter of life or death.

Moreover, the Muslim Ban Executive Order does little to actually address valid security concerns. The San Bernardino shooters had ties to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. While there is a valid point that vetting mechanisms, particularly for the wife, failed, they failed in Pakistan, which is not subject to your Executive Order. The Pulse Nightclub shooter and his wife, are not from countries covered by your Executive Order. The Boston Marathon bomber, is not from a country subject to your Executive Order. Americans want to see security, but this Executive Order is merely window dressing, if one analyzes the security lapses that have led to successful terrorist attacks on American soil.

On the contrary, this Muslim Ban Executive Order ensnares many law abiding citizens who dream of a productive life in the United States. I have represented Iranian clients over the years. They speak of hardships they had to endure at the hands of the Iranian government they despised, such as being imprisoned for the mere offense of owning a satellite dish. I’ve represented Muslim immigrants who have defied parental directives to marry Christian US service members, often resulting in permanent estrangement from their parents in their home countries. I’ve represented Muslim immigrants who have come to the United States to escape the prospect of arranged marriages in their home countries. I’ve represented service members who have married Iraqi citizens, and with whom they have built loving and happy families in the United States. The one thread that runs in common with these clients, particularly from countries like Iran and Iraq, is the escaping of oppression for the opportunity at freedom. Does your Executive Order uphold the promise of freedom and opportunity for the very people subjected to government oppression in their home countries?

In short, the implementation and application of your Muslim Ban Executive Order stigmatizes the very folks who support the United States, and dream of a new life in the United States with all of the freedoms we have to offer. Rather than enhancing security to keep us safe, it places persecuted individuals at grave risk of harm in their home countries. It acts as a major disincentive for citizens of those countries to help us, such as translators who help save US service member lives. The Executive Order penalizes the wrong people who believe in our ideals, while doing nothing of substance in keeping those in the world who hate our ideals, from attacking us.

Thus Mr. President, as an immigration attorney who voted for you, I implore you to rescind your Executive Order immediately, and promptly convene a roundtable of immigration attorneys who will be extremely happy to provide you with valuable information on ways to properly reform our immigration system in a way that ensures our security, benefits our diverse country, and strengthens our relationships in the world and our economy, while at the same time, preserving everything we stand for as a country. We can accomplish those results, without alienation, stigmas and discrimination. The Executive Order, and its application, is not what America is about. Rather, let’s be an example to the world in showing that a nation’s immigration system can be reformed and secured in a way that honors America’s ideals of inclusiveness, freedom and opportunity.

Very Truly Yours,
Richard L. Ruth, Esq.
The Law Office of Richard Ruth

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