Chapter 4: An Autobiography of an Idealist

Basic Facts Every Informed Human Should Know Before Declaring a Stance on Refugees or Trump’s Executive Order

I’ve been reading extensively on Trump’s executive order, which places a temporary ban on refugee entries into the United States, among other things. I am a refugee resettlement case manager, which means this order impacts my work and daily life directly.  I’m glad people are discussing refugee resettlement, but as I read articles and posts, I am getting increasingly frustrated with the misinformation.

News articles tend to have the correct facts, but they are selective, and provide only the ones that support their stance.  Opinion or persuasive posts tend to base their arguments on incorrect assumptions.  My goal with this post is to present the bare indisputable facts, and let each person do with them what he will.  Feel free to let me know if I miss or misrepresent anything.

First and foremost, read the executive order itself.  It is not very long, and not indecipherable legalese.  I know news sources have provided summaries and main points, but of course that means they decide what to highlight and what is important.  Read it for yourself so you can get a holistic picture.

Facts the informed human should know before declaring a stance on refugees or Trump’s executive order (EO):

  • What the difference is between a refugee and an asylum-seeker.  A refugee is not simply a person who flees his or her country.  Refugee is a legal status defined by Article 1(A)(2) the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which defines a refugee as an “individual who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence who is unable or unwilling to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on his or her race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. (emphasis mine)”  An individual must leave his country, apply for refugee status in his second country based on one of those five specific qualifications, and then apply to be resettled.  All refugees are expected and met at the airport by a refugee resettlement agency, which keeps regular and frequent contact with the refugee for at least six to eight months.  Europe’s “refugee crisis” actually has little to do with refugees.
    European countries are currently experiencing an influx of asylum-seekers, who enter a country hoping to apply for asylee status.  This means people are entering the countries through any means possible, and then applying for asylum.  They have not necessarily been vetted before entering the country, especially since there are so many of them at this time.  The United States will not experience a similar “crisis” because of geographical placement.
  • The number of fatal terrorist attacks on U.S. soil perpetrated by refugees.  About 3 million refugees have been resettled in the U.S. since the country established the formal Federal Refugee Resettlement Program in 1980.  Zero Americans have been killed in a refugee-perpetrated terrorist attack in that time.  San Bernardino, for example, was perpetrated by a U.S. citizen and a legal resident who initially came into the country on a K-1 (fiancée) visa.
    [note: the article linked to “zero” incorrectly refers to Cuban “refugees.” If they are Cuban, they are most likely parolees, which means they do not go through the refugee screening process.]
  • Where in the executive order you can find the “Muslim ban.”  Since you’ve read the EO for yourself, you already know this, but it contains no anti-Muslim language, nor does it specifically target or ban Muslims.  Yes, the EO prohibits entry to all travelers from seven countries that are all predominantly Muslim, but many other predominantly-Muslim countries are not on the list.  People infer the “Muslim ban” based on what the president has said previously and speculation on the reasons for the specific country choices.
    The EO also gives refugee resettlement priority to religious minorities, but in some countries such as Burma, the persecuted religious minority is Muslim.  It remains to be seen how this will play out in implementation.  One good debating point is whether religious persecution should be given priority over the other four refugee qualifiers.
  • What the current vetting process is for refugees.  The current vetting process takes 18-24 months, and is extensive and multi-faceted. Less that 1% of legal refugees world-wide are resettled, and those who are don’t have control over their destination.  If you believe it should be re-examined, make sure it is because you are familiar with it and have identified holes, not because you are repeating what a politician with an agenda has said.
  • Why President Obama “banned” Cuban “refugees” near the end of his term.  President Obama repealed the Cuban “wet foot dry foot” policy (Cuban Adjustment Act), which allowed any Cuban who set foot on American soil parolee status, and a path to U.S. citizenship.  Cubans did not undergo any kind of screening process before entering the country, and very few, if any, Cubans were or are admitted as refugees.  Repealing the Cuban Adjustment Act gives Cubans access to the same immigration avenues as nationals of other countries–nothing more, nothing less.

These are some of the main misconceptions I keep running across.  I have a million more I could put in this post, but it’s past my bedtime.  Let me know which facts I should include in my next post!

Further reading:

Terrorism and Immigration: a Risk Analysis – The Cato Institute
Fact Checker: The viral claim that ‘not one’ refugee resettled since 9/11 has been ‘arrested on domestic terrorism charges’ – The Washington Post
Key Facts About Refugees to the U.S. – The Pew Center
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – The United Nations
Asylum and the Rights of Refugees (refugee law) – International Justice Resource Center
Executive Order: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States – The White House Office of the Press Secretary

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