In the fight against groups like ISIS, we must pursue specific targets, bolster allies, and weaken extremists. President Trump’s executive order last week on refugees and immigration undermines all three. I spent seven years working on Syria and Iraq for the United Nations. I saw first hand the devastation that people are fleeing, and how U.S. policy can undercut stated objectives.
The executive order targets the wrong people, complicates an already extreme vetting process that works, and damages our relationship with allies all while giving a new recruiting tool to extremists.
Like generations before them, today’s refugees are escaping destroyed communities and livelihoods. They come to the United States for a better future for themselves and their children.
Take one Iraqi colleague of mine. He came to work one day in Baghdad grasping a blood stained piece of paper pierced by a clean bullet hole. Through his tears he explained it was in the chest pocket of his son when he was shot. He was targeted simply because he lived in a besieged neighborhood and belonged to the wrong religious sect. That is the violence that creates refugees.
In Iraq, 3 million people have been displaced since ISIS took Mosul in 2014. Fighting in Syria has created 4.9 million refugees and displaced 6.3 million Syrians internally. They aren’t the bad guys and we can include a small number in our communities as we all work to stay safe and confront radicalism, together.
America has the ability and the experience to help in crisis. Since 1980 the U.S. has taken in over 1.8 million refugees. We have safely welcomed many to our land in the past, and we can do so today.
Security should always be a top priority and many rightly have concerns about a thorough vetting process. That is why refugees are the most intensely vetted group of individuals entering our country. They go through a process that often takes two years, and includes tools like biometric data, interviews, and background checks conducted by the National Counterterrorism Center, FBI, and State Department. The Trump order complicates and seemingly seeks to end the process, rather than strengthen it.
Moreover, such broad actions against an entire religion make it difficult for leaders in Muslim majority countries to work with the United States. As public opinion of the U.S. declines after an order like this allies must chose between weakening their own political standing and foregoing resources needed in the fight against extremists. Either way cooperation declines. Our troops and personnel in the region become less safe at the same time. This week the Iraqi parliament called on the government to exclude entry by Americans.
Extremists use orders like this as propaganda to attract recruits, including those living in the West. We know the argument to prospective fighters is “your countries are not standing up for Muslims, join the fight.” President Trump’s religious test for entry into the country is dangerously close to the argument used by ISIS: that Muslims cannot peacefully coexist in the West. It is precisely the wrong message to send.
This is personal to me for many reasons. While I was in Iraq my Iraqi translator and I traveled throughout the country together. We were in a vehicle together when a roadside explosion hit it. We lived through life-changing and harrowing experiences side by side and his dedication to the mission never wavered. Yet my country now says he is not worthy of entry.
Rarely in the course of an individual life do we have the opportunity to act on the central principles of our country. But it means being brave enough to accept refugees and immigrants in their time of need after they have cleared extensive vetting. It is time for us to show that we can still be a generation of proud Americans who act on principle rather than fear. These are the values that make us great.
Adam Hinds is Massachusetts state Senator representing the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden district. He worked for the United Nations for nearly 10 years in Iraq, Syria and Jerusalem.