We All Lose When We Ban Refugees

By Jasper Vaughn 2-06-2017

When Donald Trump signed the recent executive order banning refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries last week, I thought of my friends.

When a federal judge in Seattle temporarily blocked enforcement of the ban soon after, I began to hope that Christian witness for the vulnerable might help people like them.

Last year, as a refugee resettlement case manager, I had the great privilege to work for several months with many refugee families and individuals from all over the world, including Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Sudan — countries listed in the ban. Every one of my clients and friends came to America seeking safety and fleeing violence, oppressive regimes, or religious/ethnic persecution.

I think of Sahar, my friend from Iran who, despite not saying more than a few words, nailed her job interview at a manufacturing company by sitting down at the sewing machine and stitching at blinding speed. They hired her on the spot. And I got a big high-five as we exited the warehouse.

I think of Dindar and Niwar, two Kurdish brothers who immigrated alone, with no support, and now create opportunities for refugees to work their way up in construction management. They’d drive miles before sunrise, picking up workers and showing them the ropes. When no one else would hire refugees, they’d offer to take more — no matter the challenge.

But most of all, I think of my friend Mohamed, who came to the U.S. after fleeing Somalia, now living far from home with his wife and four small daughters and waiting to finish the extensive vetting process for approved refugee status. Mohamed’s love for his family was evident in everything he did: His patience in tying his daughters’ shoes, his laughter as they met him at the door upon his return home, the way he and his wife parented and made decisions together, his eagerness to work (“Any job!”), his determination to learn English, and the way he formed friendships with strangers in the DSHS office.

My favorite part of any week was stopping by Mohamed’s apartment for juice. The family insisted I sit and drink, hosting me despite having no bank account, no job, no money. I loved playing with the girls, being called “Uncle,” looking down and seeing a sticky hand grab mine.

I’m devastated at the thought that another Mohamed, somewhere, is suffering with his family and might not be coming to the U.S.

Trump’s executive order banning numerous refugees is immoral and disastrous.

No American has ever been killed by a refugee in a terror attack since the establishment of the Refugee Act of 1980 — the modern procedure for accepting refugees. Zero. None. The existing rigorous, multi-year vetting process actually works.

This ban will kill people. Whether suffering in camps or perishing as they try to make it to Europe by land or sea, refugees will die as a direct result of our turning them away.

For all the posturing Trump has done to try and persuade the public otherwise, this is a Muslim ban. His advisors have admitted as much. And discriminating against people on the basis of religion is not just un-American — it’s dangerous. American security experts (even those in Trump’s party) and extremist groups agree: The ban only helps those who seek to do America harm.

The ban raises numerous questions of corruption and conflict of interest. Trump omitted from his list several countries that pose a risk of exporting terror, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt (which together account for 18 of the 19 terrorists who acted on Sept. 11). Trump has done business in each of those countries, who have been spared the ban.

None of these countries should be included in any kind of refugee or Muslim ban, and none of them should be viewed as “exporters of terror.” But it is important to understand that the recent executive order was informed by more than national security interests. It wields xenophobia and fear while preserving Trump’s business interests, masking prejudice and incorrect facts by painting vulnerable populations as “other.”

While the ban remains inactive after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the U.S. government’s request to resume travel restrictions, legal challenges by Trump’s administration will continue. Christians must join in solidarity with our refugee brothers and sisters and continue to denounce both the ideology and methodology of the ban.

Our faith demands us to lift up the voices of people like the friends I met last summer — those who have come to make a better life, and to make our lives better.

Jasper Vaughn is the former Editorial Assistant for Sojourners.

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