“In order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles.” Thus President Trump bars entry to citizens from seven countries. This preamble to the president’s executive order on travel and immigration reminds us how fear and exclusion compromises your own moral vision.
Nothing in the president’s order suggests how Americans might protect themselves from office holders bound to execute the law, who do not disguise their antagonism toward the country’s founding principles. Present threats to American security and democracy arrive not from Syria or Iran, but from our own leaders, who show no respect or deference for our country’s laws or limits on their authority. How does Donald Trump think we should protect ourselves from him?
Note something significant about the president’s order: it went into effect immediately, and it was enforced immediately. People were in the air when the order took effect. Agents from U. S. Customs and Border Protection took the travelers into custody when they landed. Other travelers around the world, about to board flights, were denied their seats. When green card holders asked how they were supposed to return home, security told them, in effect, “Talk to Mr. Trump.”
This kind of behavior toward the rest of the world – slamming the door – has been a long time in coming.
That shows you the reach of U. S. security apparatus around the globe. You might have lived in the United States for years, traveled to Tehran to visit your parents, then be told you can’t return home, even if your immigration status says that of course you can return home. Border security immediately enacted what we have called in our schools a zero tolerance policy. This kind of behavior toward the rest of the world – slamming the door – has been a long time in coming.
It won’t do any good to say 9/11 is the incubus buried beneath this broad policy of exclusion. It also won’t do any good to say the people who brought down World Trade Center 7 probably did not foresee the election of Donald Trump, or someone like him, who would sign draconian immigration policies to deal with all the fears 9/11 implanted. Whether or not you believe a false flag attack could occur in lower Manhattan, you can see the result of those attacks in front of you now, at airports all over the globe.
Agents received their instructions from Washington, and they followed them. When government employees act unthinkingly to do the bidding of tyrants like Donald Trump, you have storm trooper government.
Others will say we need to mount some sort of resistance to policies like these. The only effective resistance at the moment can come from border agents themselves. Significantly, no agent exercised discretion over application of Trump’s new order. No agent or supervisor said – to themselves or to hapless travelers – “The order won’t apply to people who are already in the air. It also doesn’t apply to green card holders who already paid for their seats.” Agents received their instructions from Washington, and they followed them. When government employees act unthinkingly to do the bidding of tyrants like Donald Trump, you have storm trooper government.
We kept thinking, as we grew up, how could Germans have let so many bad things happen during the 1930s? Rising nationalism fed on hatred and fear of internal enemies. Outside Germany, people overlooked thuggery to admire new German pride, a can-do spirit that inspired other nations caught in a tangle of depression and hopelessness. People look to Mr. Trump for hope, too, but we are about to see how quickly bad policies lead to illusions and failure. We are about to see what happens when a democracy destroys itself.
“I was a stranger”
Ann Donnelly, the judge who stayed Trump’s executive order on immigration, made the correct decision. Barring entry to people with green cards and visas is no different, in practical effect, from deporting people with green cards and visas. Trump has stated for a long time that he would like to deport all illegal immigrants. With Friday’s order, he said that if you are a legal immigrant and from one of these seven countries, we want to deport you, too. All seven countries are predominantly Muslim.
An order like this one energizes those who want to see Trump gone as soon as possible. Impeachment will not happen, though, so Trump’s opponents must find a different strategy. The ACLU’s fast action to repudiate Trump’s executive order in court demonstrates that the president’s opponents do have means of resistance. Those who want to protect basic rights are not helpless.
We know from watching him that Trump will not back down on this matter, at least not easily.
You’ll remember, early in Trump’s campaign, his references to Japanese internment camps during World War II. He mentioned the camps as a positive model for measures we might take to prevent violent attacks within the United States. Deport the deportables, then segregate those who appear dangerous. How do we know who may be dangerous? By the person’s religion, or country of national origin. That’s how you know whether someone poses a threat.
We know from watching him that Trump will not back down on this matter, at least not easily. He does not see any contradiction between protecting America, and deporting foreign-born people who live in the United States. He would have deported President Obama, if it had been in his power. He makes an exception for his wife. From his point of view, he does not have to justify these views because he won the election.
Father James Martin recalls the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus tells all of us what to expect at the Last Judgment. Jesus says during the last interview at heaven’s gate, “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.” And people will say, “When were you a stranger and we did not take care of you?’ And he will say, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
All of us came to this land as strangers, now or a few generations ago.
Martin notes that this issue is a matter of life or death for the strangers who ask for our hospitality. It is also a matter of life or death for us. If we do not respond generously to the refugees and migrants who come to us, we deny who we once were, and who we ought to be. All of us came to this land as strangers, now or a few generations ago.
We can’t give up here. Matters of openness to strangers, and generous hospitality extended to those who need our help are core issues for this country. That is especially true since the United States created much of the trouble refugees seek to flee. Most of the conflicts underway now trace their origins to actions the United States has taken since 9/11. Now we want nothing to do with the conflicts, and we regard victims of these wars as possible threats.
We can only feel secure again if we welcome strangers, despite fear. They mean us no harm; they need our help.
Imagine a reporter interviews President Trump about the new ban on travelers from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan. She starts with an obvious observation:
“Mr. President, do you know your ban on travelers from these countries is illegal?”
“Moreover, a ban like that won’t keep Americans safe.”
“A lot of people say it’s morally wrong, too.”
“Is that all you can say?”
“Look, I said I was going to do it. People elected me so I could do it. So I did it. That’s democracy. Do you have a problem with that?”
“Democracy means you faithfully execute laws made by Congress. It doesn’t mean you make stuff up and declare law on your own. You said in your oath last Friday that you would uphold the Constitution.”
“Did you think I actually meant that?”
“No, but I thought you would wait a little longer to show your contempt for it.”
“Why should I wait? I’m the president now. I can do whatever I want.”
“That’s the point. You can’t.”
“No one said that to Bush or Obama. They did what they wanted. Why shouldn’t I?”
“Actually, people did tell Bush and Obama they couldn’t rule by fiat.”
“Who cares? No one listened to them.”
“That’s how you decide whether someone is right or not? Whether people listen?”
“I don’t have time to answer your stupid questions. I have more orders to write.”
“What are you going to do next? Shut down my newspaper?”
“Yeah. Which one is it?”
“Los Angeles Times. By the way, I’m Iranian, too.”
“Figures it would be a terrorist from the West Coast. Lock her up, boys.”