Trump's immigration policies threaten America's prosperity and identity

by Michael Posner | Center for Business and Human Rights, New York University
Thursday, 9 March 2017 17:39 GMT

Syrian refugee Baraa Haj Khalaf (L) kisses her father Khaled as her mother Fattoum (R) cries after arriving at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

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Already, some corporate leaders have begun to push back

For more than two centuries, the United States has successfully integrated wave after wave of new immigrants. These individuals have helped drive a culture of ambition, innovation and creativity and made an incalculable contribution to America's economic and political success.

Two dramatic recent actions by the Trump administration – new deportation guidelines and a just revised but still ill-advised travel ban – now threaten to reverse this legacy, to stoke ethnic and religious divisions within American society and to seriously undermine U.S. political and economic standing in the world.

Under the deportation guidelines, any undocumented immigrant who has committed even a misdemeanor can be subject to immigration arrest, detention and ultimately, deportation. The administration proposes adding 10,000 new immigration enforcement officers and, for the first time, to deputize local police to become immigration enforcement officers. At a moment when national security is a priority, and when the government needs to build trusting relationships with immigrant communities, turning local police into immigration enforcers will do just the opposite.

The travel ban, which the President updated on Monday, seeks to temporarily bar admission to those coming from six Muslim majority countries. And when more refugees are fleeing persecution than at any time since World War II, the administration proposes significantly reducing overall refugee admissions to the U.S. and barring all refugees coming from Syria for 120 days. These actions follow Trump's earlier assertions proposing a ban on all Muslims, an offensive proposition that recalls the now-discredited U.S. efforts to bar all Chinese nationals from entering the U.S. in the 1880s.

As the Chinese exclusion cases attest, there always have been tensions between those who recognize the benefits of immigration, and those more focused on strict border control and the protection of jobs at home. But what is new and alarming today is the extreme nature of the administration's proposals and the vitriolic anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric that is being used to stir public fears.

Already, some corporate leaders have begun to push back. In early February, more than 100 technology firms, including Microsoft, Google and Apple filed a brief opposing the travel ban. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein voiced opposition to the ban and warned his employees of the potential disruption to the bank's global operations. Starbucks committed to hire 10,000 refugees as CEO Howard Schultz warned that we are witnessing "the conscience of our country and the promise of the American Dream, being called into question."

What the administration fails to acknowledge is that last year, more than 65,000 undocumented immigrants were removed from the U.S. Most were convicted criminals, including about 2,000 people affiliated with gangs. This reflects the clear priority of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office at DHS, which has been, and still needs to be, to target and remove convicted criminals and others who genuinely threaten U.S. national security.

The president’s rationale for the travel ban and drastic reduction in refugee admissions is what he has called inadequate screening. He has called for a new system of "extreme vetting" by U.S. authorities. But in fact, refugee applicants seeking entry into the United States now wait an average of two years to be processed, precisely because U.S. authorities are paying such close attention to their applications. In essence, they already are subjected to "extreme vetting," as their applications receive significantly greater scrutiny from immigration authorities than for any other group.

The president's words and actions denigrating immigrants and refugees, and singling out Muslims, are sharply at odds with America's historic generosity and its leadership on human rights. Eleanor Roosevelt led the U.N.’s effort to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, which she called a "Magna Carta for all mankind." Similarly, U.S. officials were central to the adoption of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and the U.S. government consistently has been the U.N. Refugee Agency's largest donor.

These international standards closely align with the U.S. constitutional model, which ensures due process of law and rejects discrimination based on race, religion or ethnicity. They support an international order, rooted in the rule of law and dignity for every human being. Adopted in the aftermath of the Holocaust, these global human rights and refugee standards are being tested more fundamentally today than at any time since they were adopted.

This is a critical moment where, from across the political spectrum, Americans need to challenge the administration's wrongheaded approach to immigration and refugee policy, and urge the U.S. government to honor America’s proud and important tradition in support of human dignity and respect for diversity. 

Michael Posner is Kohlberg professor and co-director of the Center for Business and Human Rights at NYU’s Stern School of Business. He is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.