by Dana Aliya Levinson
My Great Uncle is from Prague in the former Czechoslovakia. He narrowly escaped the fate the met so many Jews in that time. His family had managed to procure some of the last visas issued which ensured his safe passage to London. He survived the blitz and managed to make his way to The United States after the war. He could not have come to the United States during the war because one of the more shameful moments of our country’s past, was that we by and large did not accept Jewish refugees into this country while a coordinated genocide of the Jewish people was going on in Europe. Much of the reason why there was so much opposition to Jewish refugees being allowed into the country was fear mongering that Nazi saboteurs could infiltrate the refugee population and carry out counterintelligence or a flat out attack. So people felt it would be better to keep all the refugees out. FDR issued an executive order in the waning days of the war in Europe allowing Jewish refugees to enter, but this was after many of the concentration camps had been liberated and it was too little too late. Six million were already dead.
Today, a Civil War is engulfing Syria. The entire Levant is destabilized as well as Iraq, and whole swaths of both areas of the Middle East are still under ISIS’ influence. Thanks to these factors, we have the largest global refugee crisis since World War II on our hands. These refugees are escaping bombardment by rebels and government alike. But they’re also escaping terrorism. The failure of the international community to put a stop to this humanitarian crisis will go down as one of the biggest blemishes on our collective world history. Today, President Trump darkened America’s role in that blemish by issuing a ban on refugees and on visas from seven Muslim majority nations. The fact that my Great Uncle was able to get a visa to go to London is the reason why he’s alive today.
Much like the 1940s, a lot of the rhetoric surrounding this issue is focused on fear mongering that terrorists will somehow infiltrate the refugees from Syria and Iraq and carry out an attack on the United States. To reiterate, these refugees are trying to come here to escape exactly that kind of violence, not to carry it out. The fact is that there has not been a single case of someone posing as a refugee an carrying out an act of terror. The Fort Hood shooter was an American citizen. The Pulse nightclub shooter was an American citizen. The Boston Marathon bombers were American citizens. The failed Chelsea bomber was an American citizen. Furthermore, the vetting of refugees coming into this country is already, to borrow a term from Donald, extreme. Currently it takes eighteen to twenty-four months to even process an applicant, and the Department of Homeland Security is deeply involved at every step. Logistically, it would be far easier for someone wanting to carry out an attack to do so by posing as a tourist than it would be for someone to pose as a refugee. This is a solution in search of a problem. Not only is it problematic on a basic human rights front, but it also represents a continuation of the creeping growth of Islamophobia in the United States.
Ronald Reagan talked about the ‘shining city on the hill.’ Donald Trump has decided to enclose it in barbed wire so that no one can get in.