Our #9 justice story of 2015 flared up into one of the biggest stories of the week yesterday, when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested that the United States should exclude all Muslims from entering the country.
9. Slamming the door on
One of the biggest justice stories of 2014 was the Central American child refugee crisis that brought 68,000 children to the southern border, especially during the spring and summer months. By the end of last year, the Obama administration had announced a process to allow parents inside the U.S. to apply for refugee status for their children in Central America. By the middle of 2015, fewer children were being detained at the southern border, perhaps because the U.S. gave Mexican authorities tens of millions of dollars to conduct a "ferocious crackdown on refugees." Last year's crisis unsurfaced intense hostility to illegal immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border, but also brought out the better angels of our nature.
The refugee crisis that caught the world's attention this year had little to do with the U.S.-Mexico border. The Syrian refugee crisis, which the media called a "migrant crisis" for legal reasons, was the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees counts 4,288,672 refugees who have been displaced from Syria. Germany alone expected 800,000 refugees to arrive by the end of 2015, causing tension between Chancellor Angela Merkel and her right-wing coalition partners. Anti-refugee attitudes led to increased right-wing popularity in Sweden, Austria, and Denmark. Those attitudes worsened last month.
A dark day and our "unfinest hour"
On November 13, 129 people were killed in the second-deadliest terrorist attack since September 11, 2011 (the 2004 Madrid train bombing killed 191). Some reports claimed that one of the terrorists carried a Syrian passport. Before the weekend was over, almost all of the Republican candidates for president spoke out against President Obama's plan to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees, with Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush suggesting that only Christian refugees should be admitted.
Within a week of the tragedy, 31 state governors had stated publicly that their states would not resettle refugees. Although the International Rescue Committee debunked myths about Syrian refugees, and twenty national security veterans– including Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, and David Petraeus–urged Congress to back off on anti-refugee legislation, the House of Representatives passed a law making it harder for Syrians to come as refugees.
Editorial boards from the New York Times to the Boston Globe to the Houston Chronicle rejected the conservative proposals. California governor Jerry Brown promised to accept Syrian refugees, and Washington governor Jay Inslee expressed his support in a New York Times opinion piece.
President Obama gave a press conference in Turkey, which has resettled over 2 million Syrian refugees (two hundred thousand times more than in Obama's proposal), and reaffirmed America's values:
We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves -- that’s what they’re fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values.
But the sharpest criticism came from the country our founding fathers once fled. The Economist pulled no punches in an editorial titled "Unfinest hour," reminding us that over half of Americans opposed admitting Jewish refugee children during the Hitler regime, and calling the current conservative anti-refugee rhetoric "lamentable."
Looking back and giving thanks
The post-Paris attack rhetoric in the U.S. sounded dissonant in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. In his Thanksgiving address to the nation, President Obama compared the Syrian refugees to the pilgrims who came to America fleeing "persecution and violence in their native land." John Oliver of HBO's "Last Week Tonight" put a finer point on the comparison:
There was only one time in American history when the fear of refugees wiping everyone out did actually come true, and we'll all be sitting around a table celebrating it on Thursday.
Here in San Diego, we also had recently celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the use of Camp Pendleton as a refugee camp for people fleeing Vietnam. "Operation New Arrivals" brought 50,000 Vietnamese refugees to Camp Pendleton following the fall of Saigon in April 1975. Many of the same Marines who fought in the conflict built the camp with only a couple days' notice, and San Diego remains a "refugee hub" to this day, a continuing testament to the value of opening our doors and arms to people who need our help.
From bad to worse
Donald Trump, who announced his candidacy for president in June with a speech calling Mexicans "rapists," and who is currently in first place in pre-primary Republican polls, defended the idea of shutting down mosques in the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks. After suggesting that he would also support registering Muslims in a database and issuing ID cards, an American-Muslim who serves in the Marine Corps tweeted a picture of his military ID and the #MuslimID hashtag, and tens of thousands more joined in.
Last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott authorized a lawsuit to attempt to block the resettlement of refugees in Texas. (More on Texas's love of anti-immigration litigation later in our list.)
Yesterday, December 7, Trump proposed prohibiting all Muslims from traveling to the United States, and spoke positively of FDR's executive actions during World War II allowing the detention of Italian, German, and Japanese citizens. Trump's announcement followed last week's shooting in San Bernardino, California, which killed 14 people; one of the perpetrators was an American-born Muslim and his wife immigrated from Pakistan on a fiancée visa.
The silver lining
Twenty-one refugees are arriving in Texas this week, and so far Obama has not reneged on his promise to resettle 10,000 Syrians. Germany surpassed its expected 800,000 refugees, and is on track to admit a million people this year.
As for Trump? The White House has said that his comments disqualify him from being president, and even Dick Cheney said the proposal "goes against everything we stand for and believe in."
Much to our surprise, we agree with Dick Cheney.
This is not what we stand for. This is not what we believe in.
Let's do better next year.