It might sound strange to say that when I was a child in Kabul, Afghanistan, I was lucky. There was a war, there were armed militias stopping families and raping women. There were rockets and blackouts. In the end, though, my family was able to get out before it was too late. We came to the U.S. and were granted asylum. We settled in California, and 10 years later my parents earned their U.S. citizenship.
Ultimately, I was lucky, and I’m grateful. But I can’t help but compare my story to the stories of thousands of refugee children on whom we have turned our back as a nation. Children are being gassed in Syria, drowning in the Mediterranean, and being pulled out of the rubble while our president is on the record demonizing them as security threats.
The United States has resettled 44 Syrian refugees since October and just 11 since the start of this calendar year. During the same 3 ½–month period in 2016, that number was 790.
Against this troubling backdrop, it is chilling to confront the reality that the highest court in our nation, the gatekeeper of justice and equal treatment before the law, may move to uphold a ban based on religious animus in a country that claims to aspire to uphold religious liberty.
The shamefully low refugee intake numbers over the past year demonstrate that refugees are already suffering the devastating effects of Trump’s xenophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice. I work for one of the nine refugee-resettlement agencies in the U.S.—Church World Service—and I have witnessed this firsthand.
I think of a client who spent most of his life—more than two decades—in a refugee camp in Kenya. After being registered with UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, he was cleared to come to the United States. His caseworkers advised him that he should go to the U.S. without his wife because revising her application to reflect their newlywed status would mean having to start over for both of them. Shortly after he left, his wife told him she was pregnant. Nearly a year later, she and their son were cleared to join him. But the White House blocked their entry. My client’s son is now 2 years old, and he has never seen his father except through FaceTime. How this toddler might be a national security threat to the United States has never been explained.
For the average citizen, it’s very difficult to envision the real human suffering that attaches itself to our disgraceful refugee policy. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the Muslim travel ban. Our leaders have been closing the country’s doors on the international community since Trump took office, and if our highest court upholds the Muslim ban, those doors will slam shut.
The travel ban has barred U.S. entry for foreigners, immigrants, and refugees from Muslim-majority countries for months now, with the devastating drop in refugee entry as perhaps the most startling example of this. The U.S. is now on track to resettle less than half of the 45,000 ceiling Trump promised this fiscal year. This is 63,000 fewer people than the almost 85,000 that were resettled in the final year of Obama’s presidency.
According to the Niskanen Center, of the already low number of refugee resettlements, Trump’s State Department is resettling European refugees at more than four times the rate as refugees from Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean; more than twice the rate as refugees from East Asia; and more than five times the rate as refugees from the “Near East/South Asia.” It is hard to look at that stomach-turning discrepancy and not see transparent prejudice.
Not only is our nation turning its back on refugees, but the current administration is selectively closing our borders to refugees of primarily African and Middle Eastern majority-Muslim nations. The only plausible explanation is racial and religious discrimination: If those numbers aren’t definitive proof of this administration’s xenophobic agenda, I don’t know what is.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that Trump’s discrimination has always been overt. During his campaign he shared lies about the American Muslim community in New Jersey, and called for a total and complete shutdown of Muslim immigration to this country. Upon taking the presidency, he shared anti-Muslim tweets from an avowed hate group in the U.K.
While a ruling against the Muslim ban wouldn’t magically increase our refugee intake numbers, it would allow already vetted refugees and immigrants their right to entry. It would unite separated families. It would underscore our constitutional commitments to freedom of opportunity no matter someone’s religion, race, or ethnicity.
As a nation, we’re now faced with a moral choice. As Americans, we can tell our Muslim, refugee, and immigrant neighbors that they belong, and affirm our belief in freedom of religion and equality of opportunity. Or we can turn them away and reject the very promise of our own Constitution. The Supreme Court has a checkered history on these issues, but it must stand on the right side of history—or be rightfully remembered for this moment in lasting shame.