An Iraqi Collaborator and The Moral Outrage That Is President Trump’s Muslim Ban and Refugee Program Shut Down on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Passengers aboard the “St. Louis.” These refugees from Nazi Germany were forced to return to Europe after both Cuba and the US denied them refuge. May or June 1939. Photo: US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Trump announced that the United States would be at least temporarily completely shutting down its refugee program. He also ordered that people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen cannot enter the United States. This entry ban includes people from those countries with valid visas to enter the U.S. and even green card holders who happen to be abroad. Today’s Executive Order filled me with anger and sadness and reminded me of a favorite client of mine.

Four men attacked Dr. Ahmed Abboud (not his true name) on his way back to his dormitory from an Iraqi medical school with stones and knives while screaming that he was an ‘infidel’ and a ‘traitor.’ Stabbed and beaten, he was left for dead in the street. Two days later, he woke up in the hospital’s ICU with four broken teeth, a stab wound in the chest, a broken finger and a broken nose.

What were his sins? Speaking out against radical Islamist beliefs and working with a relief organization funded in part by the U.S. State Department. Because of his work to help introduce introduce modern medicine and psychiatry to rural villages in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he was harassed, threatened with death, and ultimately beaten within an inch of his life. Dr. Abboud ultimately recovered from his injuries and continued his work, relocating multiple times within Iraq to try to flee renewed threats to his life.

In 2011, Dr. Abboud and his colleagues began receiving threatening phone calls. Days after one of those calls, his colleague and a brother were murdered. At a breaking point, Dr. Abboud fled to the United States and eventually won political asylum from a U.S. immigration judge.

Under the President’s Executive Order effective today, Dr. Abboud, a man here as an asylee due to his being a “collaborator” with a U.S. State Department-funded program in Iraq, would be denied reentry to the United States if he ever left for a medical conference or any other reason.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis put there lives on the line by working with U.S. troops and agencies in the wake of the overthrow of Sadaam Hussein. Some of them were granted asylum. Some may still be seeking to enter as refugees. To categorically shut the door on all of them ever entering or reentering the United States is a moral outrage.

The moral questions our country must answer are of course not limited to cases like Dr. Abboud’s. In a 2015 piece on the Syrian refugee crisis, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote:

“We have always been a generous nation, and we have in place a rigorous process for refugee resettlement that balances our generosity with our need for security. It works, and it should not be stopped or paused.”

Are we still a generous nation governed by ideals and humanity that we believe should be an example for other nations to aspire to? Or are we only governed by fear?