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 real monster is opened – isolationist rhetoric and policies.
Since World War II, the United States has positioned itself as the 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 (1948) to Trump’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia (2017), the United States tends to act internationally to further its own economic and ideological interests. Indeed, matters of international relations are thoroughly analyzed by the Department of State 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 decidedly oblivious of the symbiotic nature of the relationship that national security has with international affairs. Consequently, domestic refugee quotas and border control continue to affect stabilization efforts in war-ridden countries.
In the summer of 1942, Herbert Bahr, a 28 year-old Jewish man from Germany, sought refuge into the United States. When he arrived, he was interrogated by five separate government agencies that accused him of being a Nazi spy. His story was subsequently used as justification to deny visas to thousands of Jews seeking asylum from Nazism. The U.S. claimed post-facto that it was not completely aware of the Holocaust’s horrors, but such a claim is directly contradicted by President Roosevelt’s condemnation of Kristallnacht.
In the wake of this smear on America’s global reputation, the U.S. spearheaded efforts to draft the 1951 Refugee Convention. 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”, now considered a customary rule in 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 a sufficient incentive to accept Jewish refugees, neither is international law. Accordingly, over the last year, men, women, and children who have sought asylum at our southern border have been promptly turned away; if these people seeking refuge enter ‘illegally’, they are immediately prosecuted as criminals. What does Border Control expect of asylum seekers if they are not granted legal means through which they can escape danger?
By an ironic twist of fate, ‘illegal entrants’ are held in detention facilities to ‘secure appearance for hearings,’ which is prohibited by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which the U.S. adheres. 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 threatens our interest in global stability. Furthermore, records of attempted and successful attacks within the U.S. actually point to homegrown terrorism as the most urgent threat to America’s safety. Thus, the focus should be transferred from our borders to actual causes of terrorism, such as socio-political tensions, mental health challenges, social isolation – all aggravated by Trump’s divisive and xenophobic rhetoric.
Government officials guarantee that refugees are the most scrupulously vetted category of travelers to the United States. Yet, in the name of national security, the U.S. is denying entry to people often escaping the same forces that our country is decidedly against, thereby threatening the stability of already troubled regions by forcing civilians to return to the very danger they sought to escape. Oftentimes, unstable countries are controlled by informal militias, such as ISIS, that operate along religious and ethnic lines. In the midst of turmoil, the only means for people to access vital resources such as food and shelter is often simply joining said groups. Certainly, having more civilians be forced to join militant extremist groups runs against the United States’ foreign policy and national security interests.
Thus, national security cannot be reduced to a question of opening or closing our doors according to how we perceive risk levels: 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. American national security policies then 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.