Reasons to care about, abhor the executive order on immigration

Melinda Holmes

By Melinda Holmes

Guest Column

Last week, the country faced tremendous fallout from the Executive Order on Immigration, and its hasty implementation.

Yet, in our rural northern towns the chaos and bustle of airport terminals full of civil rights lawyers and activists can easily feel a world apart.

As an international relations expert with experience in the Middle East, I believe it is imperative that every American citizen consider deeply each unprecedented step the new administration is taking. In the case of the Executive Order, those steps lead down a dangerous path.

  1. The order will likely exacerbate the very security threat it purports to address.

The ban on all travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, and the suspension of all refugee resettlement, plays right into the narratives spewed by so-called Islamic State and other extremist groups which claim that the United States is at war with Islam and that Muslims cannot ever find peace, prosperity and acceptance in the West.

As one of my colleagues, who works with U.S. security agencies to counter IS propaganda online commented, “Three years of daily effort erased with a stroke of a pen.”

This order insults the people on the front lines of the real fight against extremism in those countries: average citizens who happen to be Muslim, Arab, or Persian. This order also reinforces the alienation of countless individuals and communities around the world, who see themselves more in those it rejects, than in this America. We have shuttered our house in a display of contempt and privilege that even the most avid Americanophiles — foreign youth raised on Hollywood movies to believe in the American Dream —cannot help but realize that it was never meant for them. Aspirations thwarted, it is the poverty of hope that drives radicalization not an empty wallet.

  1. This is, and isn’t, a Muslim Ban because identities are complicated.

While I cringe at use of the phrase “Muslim Ban” — it is conceptually imprecise and easily manipulated — there is a terrible truth in it that should disturb every person who believes the separation of Church and State is a vital American principle. The order includes a provision to prioritize Christian refugees and other religious minorities for resettlement.

Recent estimates suggest that 70% of refugees in the world today are Muslim, and last year they made up slightly less, only 46% of those admitted to the United States. You can do the math. The seven banned countries are indeed Muslim-majority, however that’s only a part of the story for they also boast minority Christian, Yezidi, Zoroastrian, atheist, and Baha’i communities. They are Arab, Persian, Nubian, Berber, and Somali. They are peacemakers and activists, business people, students, and entrepreneurs. Reducing the identity of a person to their religion and basing our policies in that narrow reality is an affront to the freedom of religion we so cherish.

  1. American exceptionalism is grounded in innovation by the world’s best and brightest.

We pride ourselves on meritocracy and credit American innovation to it, yet with this order the participation of roughly 3% of the world’s population is stifled. By refusing visas for scientists and students, entrepreneurs and peacemakers, we push these people to invest their energies elsewhere or worse yet, give up. The one shared characteristic among the seven countries that stands them apart is that our policies — whether in the form of drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia, military operations in Libya, Syria and Iraq, or sanctions on Iran and Sudan — have eviscerated their domestic research and development capacities, making it nearly impossible for the society to support its creators and thinkers to do their important work at home.

  1. It’s more up close and personal than you think.

The Executive Order, whether you believe it benign in theory or not, was implemented in a most inhumane way, separating so suddenly children from parents, students from their studies, and people from their pets.

If this were 2015, before my husband was granted U.S. citizenship, the rumored addition of Egypt to the list of banned countries would be wreaking havoc on my psyche. My boss, a U.S. permanent resident and founder of a U.S. nonprofit organization with American daughters, must now cope with uncertainty as a dual national of the U.K. and Iran during her frequent international work travel for fear she not be able to return to her teenage children, pet turtle and houseplants.

This is not impersonal. It’s not happening to someone else, somewhere else. In fact, I would be willing to bet if you look at your life you will find some way this is impacting you or someone you know…the college friend of a nephew not returned from holiday abroad, the lecture cancelled, the Canadian colleague who was born further abroad.

Think about it, and then do something, because as the poem goes: if you do not speak out when they come for your neighbor, there will be no one left to speak when they come for you.

Melinda Holmes is a resident of Bridgton.

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