About the Executive Order on Immigration

This appears on Medium, but was written specifically for Upserve employees.

To: Upserve Team
4 February 2017

Merry Band,

Like many of you, I thought a lot last weekend about President Trump’s Executive Order (“EO”) on immigration and refugees. Last night, the order was put on hold by a Federal court, subject to appeal to the 9th circuit and then the Supreme Court.

We do not believe any of our employees or their families are directly impacted by the executive order, but if you have questions, you should contact Alaina or your talent team business partner.

My immediate reaction was to oppose the order. At Upserve, we value empathy, diversity and inclusiveness. This EO is incompatible with these values. It sends the wrong message to the world, and does not make our country safer.

Too often, we fail to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” In this post, I share my understanding with you, and explain why I oppose this EO as contrary to our values.

WARNING: Below is long, because I didn’t have time to make it shorter.
Some of you asked for my position on this. Hopefully this post will be more detailed and complete than any answer I could give at our All Hands meeting.

What does the Executive Order do?

The most controversial elements of the EO block most immigration for nationals from 7 countries for a 90-day period. The list of countries came from a 2015 law passed by Congress and signed by President Obama, who subsequently expanded the initial list in February 2016 to its present list of 7. The list was never intended for the purpose of an immigration ban. The EO doesn’t name the 7 countries, but instead references this existing law. In response to the EO, Iraq has reciprocated with a 90-day ban on Americans seeking entry there, as has Iran.

The EO stops refugee admission from any country for 4 months. ~10% of U.S. immigrants each year are refugees. The U.S. last paused refugee admissions for a 3-month period after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The U.S. admitted 85,000 refugees in fiscal 2016, which is higher than the 50,000 cap this EO would set for FY’17. Each year the government sets a cap.

Why do some think refugees pose a threat?

World events impact how many refugees we admit each year. For example, In the early 1990s, we admitted over 100,000 refugees per year, many from the former Soviet Union. Recent violence in Syria, Somali, Yemen and Iraq led to an increase in Muslim refugees over the last few years.

While my personal network favors admitting refugees, a 2015 Pew Research report says Americans don’t like accepting refugees. Earlier this week, Reuters/Ipsos polling showed Americans support the EO, 49% to 41%, with 10% unsure. This may be surprising to some of us in the 41%. CNN has a new poll saying 53% oppose the EO.

In 2009, two Iraqi nationals, Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi entered the U.S. as refugees, settling in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Later the FBI realized they were al Qaeda terrorists, indicting them in 2011 (they subsequently plead guilty). Alwan built bombs linked to the death of 4 U.S. soldiers. His fingerprints were lifted off a bomb found near Bayji, Iraq, in 2005. Before he entered the U.S. as a refugee in April 2009, he provided fingerprints for a security check, but “gaps” prevented authorities from connecting him to the bomb until 2011. The FBI said there were “dozens” of refugees being investigated on terrorism charges; only 3 were prosecuted. After Bowling Green, President Obama stopped accepting most Iraqi refugees for 6 months to overhaul the system. ABC reported on this in 2013.

Aftermath of Paris attacks; Image IBTimes UK

In November 2015, ISIS attacks planned in Syria and organized by a terrorist cell based in Belgium killed 130 and injured 368 in Paris, France. All the attackers had fought in Syria. Some of them had entered Europe among the flow of migrants and refugees.

These two are the only cases I could find where refugees from any of the 7 countries committed or threatened to commit violent terrorist acts after immigrating to a Western country.

Is it a Muslim ban?

Trump’s first television campaign advertisement calling for a ban on Muslims

The EO applies to just 7 of 49 countries with a majority-Muslim population; the Administration claims this “is not a Muslim ban,” and Politifact says “The order does not specifically bar Muslims.” But, the President’s campaign rhetoric explicitly calling for a “ban on Muslims” provides the lens through which many view this action: as religious bigotry and xenophobia. Regardless of reality, the perception is this is a Muslim ban.

This change in the world’s perception of American values is what many find so offensive, more than the actual letter of the order itself. Anger over the order is exacerbated by instituting a ban on refugees and certain immigrants, which goes far beyond less aggressive elements of the EO like stronger vetting procedures, or giving special consideration to persecuted religious minorities such as Christians from Syria (1% of the 12,500 Syrian refugees admitted in 2016 were Christian, but they make up 5% of the Syrian population — though Christian groups oppose any preference), or Sunni Muslims from Iraq (where most are Shiites).

Why did politicians call for travel restrictions?

The San Bernardino shooting precipitated both Trump’s December 2015 call for a Muslim ban and Obama’s February 2016 decision to expand the list of countries subject to more restrictive visa treatment. The Paris attacks led to the passage in the House of the American “SAFE” Act, which would have essentially banned refugees from Syria and Iraq until extensive new vetting procedures were put in place. The bill reflected popular opinion polls at that time favoring a ban on admitting Syrian refugees, with just 28% of Americans in favor of leaving the program in place without significant changes. The bill attracted a veto threat from the President, but 47 House Democrats voted in favor of the bill. It died in the Senate as it failed to reach a 60-vote threshold (It got 53 votes. Bernie didn’t vote).

Tashfeen Malik entering the United States on a K-1 visa with Rizwan Farook, who she married

Only one of the two shooters in San Bernardino was an immigrant: Tashfeen Malik. She entered from Pakistan on a K-1 (fiancée) visa. She later obtained a green card, requiring fingerprints and “three extensive national security and criminal background screenings.” She had two in-person interviews, with a consular officer in Pakistan and with an INS officer in the U.S. The EO has no impact on people from Pakistan. Tashfeen Malik could enter the country again today.

Similarly, the EO as implemented would not have prevented the Orlando nightclub shooter, the Fort Hood killer or the Tsarnaev brothers.

Is the Executive Order a bad policy?

There is little evidence refugees or immigrants from the 7 countries in the EO are a terrorist threat to America’s national security. Armed toddlers kill more Americans per year. The battle that puts us at risk is an ideological one. Historically, America has claimed a moral high ground that stands for liberty, tolerance and freedom when facing repressive regimes. The perception (right or wrong) of the EO as a Muslim ban is an affront to the values America seeks to uphold on the world stage. Ceding this high ground is dangerous to America’s national interest. 1,000 State Department diplomatic officers concur in the form of a “dissent cable” (also used last year on a smaller scale to oppose Obama’s Syria policy). In the words of Condoleezza Rice:

Americans are not held together by race, ethnicity, nationality or religion. What holds people together is an aspiration. That’s why we are particularly vulnerable as a country. We are not a nationality. We are an idea.

What about legal challenges to the EO?

Last weekend, 4 court orders pertaining to green card holders at US airports restrained the government from deporting them, and in one case required access to attorneys. Those first 4 orders did not block the EO. While the court orders had procedural problems, there are no longer any “airport people” detained. The administration clarified the order does not apply to Green Card holders. Foreign nationals outside America do not enjoy much protection under the U.S. Constitution. A question before courts in coming weeks will be whether those with an approved visa application have a case (here is a good discussion of constitutional issues).

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson

On Monday, Washington State argued the EO violates constitutional provisions (equal protection and others). Yesterday, a federal judge in the Western district of Washington issued a temporary nationwide restraining order stopping the EO! (AG explains; others try to understand rationale). The EO is on hold, for now. This will go to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court.

Under the plenary power doctrine, historically courts have been deferential on immigration. For example, in 2002 the government introduced a registry of male immigrants over age 16 from 25 countries (24 majority-Muslim), called NSEERS (Vox explainer). Courts did not engage due to the plenary power doctrine. This Bush-era program continued for 2 years into Obama’s administration, before he suspended it in 2011. No NSEERS registrant was ever convicted of a terrorism crime. After it became clear Trump may re-activate NSEERS, Obama ended the program in December.

What’s the deal with Australia?

Asylum seekers and refugees in cramped tents on Nauru / Amnesty International

A few days after the U.S. elections in November, the Australian government announced it had reached a deal with the Obama administration to take up to 2,465 asylum-seekers the Australians are holding in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Australia detained these people in some cases up to 3 years, following a hard-line policy the Australians adopted in 2013 that banned all asylum seekers trying to reach Australia by boat. The deal was rushed in the waning days of the Obama administration as a reported quid pro quo after Australia agreed to resettle Central American refugees. The State Department classified details on the deal. Now, the Trump Administration is upset about inheriting this deal. It’s worth pointing out the awful things Amnesty International said about the detention camps operated by the Australian government. Imagine if the U.S. detained all asylum seekers in tents for 3 years on Puerto Rico.

Why is there a refugee crisis in the first place?

Syria transformed from a local problem five years ago to an international crisis today. It would be wrong to talk about refugees without examining the root causes of their suffering.

Five-year-old Syrian boy Omran Daqneesh Image: Mahmoud Rslan / Reuters

Syria is the site of an escalating proxy war involving the U.S., Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, ISIS and others. Our foreign policy in Syria has been a failure, leading to death, suffering and chaos. Tulsi Gabbard says we should deal with Assad (a remarkable TV interview); Trump wants to setup safe zones.

The Yemeni civil war also contributes to the refugee crisis. Many are unaware there is a joint U.S., U.K. and Saudi Arabian campaign in this war. Last weekend it claimed the life of an American. Monday, Iran-backed Houthi rebels targeted a U.S. warship. The Houthis slogan is, “God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Damn the Jews, Power to Islam.” Yemen has been in a perpetual state of civil war off and on for decades.

Also a concern: the destabilization of Turkey (a NATO country where a coup attempt in July cut power to the Incirlik airbase where the U.S. maintains 50 nuclear bombs 100 km from the Syrian border).

A backdrop: our policy with Iran and Israel. Just a few years ago, Sen. McCain called for the U.S. to backup an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, which arguably would be more destabilizing than the event that started WW1 (this week, the President accused McCain of trying to start WW3). By some accounts (recommended: Zero Days), an Israeli attack would have happened, if not for joint U.S., U.K. and Mossad cyber attacks on Iran (Olympic Games and Nitro Zeus), which applied pressure that led to the Iran nuclear deal framework — a deal many have criticized.

If the refugee crisis continues, millions more will suffer. Rising nationalism could threaten the E.U. with “more Brexits.” When discussing immigration policy, we also must understand foreign policy and the geopolitical order.

What is Upserve’s position on the Executive Order?

At Upserve, we value empathy, diversity and inclusiveness. This EO is incompatible with these values. It sends the wrong message to the world, and does not make our country safer.

Muslims seeking refuge may have read The Qur’an, An-Nisa 4.97–100:

They will say, ‘We were oppressed in the land.’ The angels will say, ’Was not the earth of Allah spacious enough for you to emigrate therein?’ … Whosoever leaves his country in duty to God will find many places of refuge, and abundance on the earth … for God is forgiving and kind.

It’s a similar message to Leviticus 19:33–34 (note, I don’t agree with everything in Leviticus):

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

These are basic human principles, not specific to the words of any one faith or philosopher:

  • Confucius: “Do not unto another that you would not have him do unto you. Thou needest this law alone. It is the foundation of all the rest.
  • Aristotle: “We should conduct ourselves toward others as we would have them act toward us.
  • The Mahabharata: “This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.
  • Rabbi Hillel: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.
Meryem Yildirim, 7, left, sitting on the shoulders of her father, Fatih, of Schaumburg, and Adin Bendat-Appell, 9, sitting on the shoulders of his father, Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Apell, of Deerfield Jan 30, 2017. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)

The golden rule is embraced by the devout and secular humanists alike.

We can’t have open borders — such a position is naive. We are a nation of laws, and they must be followed. It’s true there is evil in the world, and that terrorists threaten our way of life.

But this executive order is an over-reach that does not make us safer. Whether intended or not, it will be interpreted as a disgusting blasphemy of the very ideals that make America great.

If you support this order, I hope this note helps you better understand those of us who oppose it, and vice-versa. This is how each of us can embrace the value of Empathy. At this time in our country, we should all “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”

Thanks,

Angus

4 February 2017

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