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Losing the high ground

Trump’s executive order on immigration, signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day one week ago, has clearly struck a nerve in the United States and around the world. Thousands of people have protested at airports around the country. Most world leaders are aghast. Business leaders are distancing themselves from the Trump administration. I am worried about the consequences this order will have for refugees, our men and women in uniform and the ideal of freedom that has brought so many to our shores.

Like many Americans, I come from a family of immigrants and refugees. My great-grandfather, Samuel Obletzyev, fled Russia during the Bolshevik revolution and started a successful drugstore business in Buffalo, New York. His son – my grandfather – served in the Navy in World War II and started a successful real estate development business. My other great-grandfather, DB Levi, left Germany around the turn of the 20th century to avoid the Völkisch anti-Semetic movement. He settled in the United States and started a sportswear company.

When discussing the balance of security and immigration, the individual stories often get lost in the noise. Take the story of an interpreter – from one of the countries included in the ban – who, in addition to his regular interpreter duties, rescued an American soldier amidst a firefight and lost his leg in the ordeal. Shortly thereafter, “a grenade was thrown at his home by insurgents angry that he had helped Americans. Many people from these countries have helped our armed forces, and in return for their service, some of them have begun or are in the midst of immigrating to our country. What do we tell them, and what message will this order send to those we ask for help later on? Luckily, some federal judges have issued stays that prevented some of these individuals – who were traveling to the United States at the time the order was signed – from being immediately deported, but there are many more that remain in a limbo.

There are many other troubling parts of this immigration ban, including the exclusion of some Middle Eastern countries where the Trump Organization has business dealings and the general confusion brought about by the lack of preparation, coordination and clarification surrounding the order.

While I believe Trump cares about the U.S. military in his own way, if that feeling were genuine, he would understand that by leaving the interpreters and others who risked their lives to help our country out to dry, he is not only endangering those service members who are sacrificing every day for our freedom, but he is also removing America from moral high ground it has traditionally had in the world. As Senator McCain (R-AZ) said, “Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.”

Clearly, it is unlikely for the Trump administration to reverse course on this issue. With the lives of so many people – from the refugees who have waited patiently for years to come to the U.S. to service remembers who rely on the assistance and intelligence the citizens of the very countries targeted in this order – the administration should ensure it is doing everything it can to balance its need for additional security while also ensuring that we don’t set ourselves and our military up for failure, especially as we continue the global War on Terror. One way to accomplish this balance would be by passing another bill that ensures we take care of the interpreters and other assets who have helped our military in dangerous places, as was proposed during the immigration reform debates over the past few years. If the Trump administration is not willing to adjust course, and the Republican leadership in Congress is unwilling to take a stand, then we must rely on the checks and balances of the courts and the peoples’ continued exercise of their First Amendment rights.

– Nicholas Obletz ’17

 

Contact Nicholas Obletz at nobletz ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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