When A Door Closes… The Window to Extremism Opens

When the door to the United States is sealed shut to refugees, the door to the actual monster is opened: isolationist rhetoric and policies are strategic suicide.

Ever since World War II, the United States has positioned itself as a scion of freedom, one that presumes to defend its allies all while spreading and upholding its liberal democratic ideals across the globe. From the Marshall plan to Trump’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia, when the United States acts internationally, it intends to further its own economic and ideological interests. Indeed, matters of international relations are thoroughly analyzed by the Secretary of State’s office to ensure that they safeguard American interests; they must ascertain that in helping one country of concern, the U.S. will not alienate an ally-- that they will not interrupt the fragile equilibrium on which our global status is leveled. Indeed, why would the U.S. consciously conduct any action that would be counter to its interests? However, it would appear that the Trump administration is unconscious of the reciprocal relationship that U.S. national security has with international affairs. Thus, it is important to understand why refugee-quotas and borders can directly affect stability efforts in war-ridden countries.

In the summer of 1942, a 28 year old Jewish man from Germany sought refuge into the United States, and when he arrived he was interrogated by five separate government agencies that accused him of being a Nazi spy. Subsequently, his story had been used as justification to deny the visas of thousand of Jews seeking asylum from the Nazi regime. The U.S. claimed post facto that it was not completely aware of the Holocaust’s horrors, but Americans had been aware of the violence and the discriminative policies against the Jewish people, as proven by President Roosevelt’s condemnation of the 1938 Kristallnacht. But it seemed that America did not have enough incentive, or simply did not care enough about this mistreatment to grant these persecuted people asylum.

In the wake of this smear on America’s global reputation, the U.S. spearheaded efforts to draft the Refugee Convention, ratified in 1951. According to the UN Refugee Agency, its core principle is “non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. This is now considered a rule of customary international law.” One would think that the U.S. should now be bound by this treaty to treat asylum-seekers in a fair and humane manner. Unfortunately, just as moral principles were not sufficient incentive for the U.S. to accept Jewish refugees, neither was the ambiguous dicta of international law. And so, over the last year, men, women and children who have sought asylum at the Southern American border have been promptly turned away; if these people seeking refuge enter ‘illegally,’ then they are immediately prosecuted as criminals. What can Customs and Border Protection expect asylum seekers to do if they are not allowed in through legal channels, walk quietly back to the danger that they sought to escape? By an ironic twist of fate, these people are held in detention facilities to ‘secure appearance for hearings,’ which is prohibited by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which the U.S. is also party. These asylum-seekers seemingly escape persecution just to fall into the enclosure of prosecution. The Trump administration justifies these methods as ‘making America safe again,’ but the shortsighted nature of these actions unequivocally threaten our interest in global stability. Further, records of attempted and successful attacks within the U.S. actually prove that homegrown terrorism is the most concerning threat to America’s safety, so perhaps the focus should be reoriented from borders to causes of this terrorism, such as  socio-political tensions, mental health challenges, social isolation, causes that can be aggravated by divisive, xenophobic rhetoric.


National security and military officials guarantee that refugees are the most scrupulously vetted category of traveler to the United States. Moreover, in the name of National Security, the U.S. is denying entry to people often escaping the same forces that the U.S. is decidedly against, thereby threatening the stability of already troubled regions by forcing civilians to return to the very danger they sought to escape. Often times, unstable countries are controlled by informal militias, such as ISIS, that operate along religious and ethnic lines. In the midst of turmoil, sometimes the only means for people to access vital resources such as food and shelter is through the channels of these militias, and thus they must join and operate within their fold if they are not able to escape the region itself.  Unequivocally, having more civilians be forced to join militant, sometimes extremist, groups is counter to the United States’ foreign policy and national security interests.

Isolationist acts and rhetoric play into the rhetoric of groups like ISIS. The terror group has stated that it aims to erase the ‘greyzone’ wherein Muslims and non-Muslims alike live cohesively, for if people become victims of islamophobic policies, they become far more susceptible to the group’s reach. In the group’s very magazine, Dabiq, it stated that ‘Bush spoke the truth when he said, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” I.e. either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.’ Indeed, ISIS is hoping that the U.S. will drive Muslims to a point where they do not have a choice but to join “the terrorists.” Thus, discriminative rhetoric and policies can only amplify reciprocal radicalization. And research by Quilliam, the counter-extremism think tank, affirms that extremist groups are able to gain support and widen their networks by capitalizing on racist rhetoric and policy against their target audience. Thus, not only can these policies force refugees back into a situation wherein they do not have a choice but to join extremist groups in order to survive, but also they create a political climate and rhetoric that bolsters extremists’ claims and plays into their goals.

Thus, national security cannot be reduced to the question of opening or closing our doors according to how we perceive the level of risk: national security and international relations are intrinsically linked. Morals and treaties may have not been persuasive enough to force America’s hand, but perhaps its vested interest in international threats will. Our national security policies are far from detached from international matters-- if anything, they hold so much weight that one more isolationist act may tip the scale towards chaos.