“I want my chips,” Miriam scowled. “You can’t have them right now on the reading mat,” I explained, “you have to wait 10 minutes until lunch time. Then we will all eat together in the cafeteria.” “What’s a cafeteria?” she asked.
Miriam is 7. Her older brother is 9, already cool and excited to have the chance to play soccer with other boys. Her older sister, 11, is inquisitive, a quick learner, and friendly with a dash of reserve. They have attended Roshan Learning Center, an informal school for refugee children in Jakarta, for the last 2 years and are beloved. Last week we were invited to visit Jakarta Intercultural School, a “real” school with a real cafeteria.
One of the parents told me, “This is the first time they have met other children who are not from Afghanistan and Iran.”
On Wednesday this week, after years of waiting, they are supposed to leave for the U.S. There, they will get to go to a real school, one that operates five days a week, not just three. There, they will eat lunch in a cafeteria every day with their new friends.
Except now maybe they won’t.
President Trump just signed an executive order halting all refugees from entering the country for 120 days, with a complete ban for 3 months for all nationals from Iran, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and Libya, all Muslim-majority countries, and an indefinite prohibition against Syrians. This ban applies not only to refugees but also to visitors on work visas as well as permanent U.S. residents who hold a green card. The U.S. had intended to take 110,000 immigrants in 2017. Mr. Trump’s executive order now allows for 50,000, the lowest annual ceiling recorded since the Refugee Act of 1980 according to Migration Policy Institute.
However, A U.S. District court judge in Brooklyn issued an emergency stay preventing deportations for those in transit with valid visas. It is unclear what the current chaos means in terms of acceptance into the U.S. for Miriam’s family. It is clear that the chaos is causing renewed and deepened fear, anxiety and despair for her family and the many others we work with at the learning center, who are primarily from Afghanistan and Iran.
Mr. Trump said about the ban, “It’s working out very nicely, and we’re going to have a very, very strict ban, and we’re going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years.”
Yet law and Homeland Security officials in the U.S. already do an excellent job of vetting potential immigrants to the U.S. Data from empirical studies carried out by independent researchers are consistent in showing that immigrants commit lower levels of crime than native-born residents. Whether it’s fighting, gambling, drug use or other criminal or antisocial behavior, immigrants are rarely the ones causing problems. In 2007, rates of incarceration for immigrants were one-fifth the rates of native born people, according the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The fear about immigrants is not so much about gambling and drug use, however, as it is about terrorism. Yet the data are clear on that front as well: One is more likely to catch on fire from their own clothing than die from an immigrant terrorist, according to Vox reporting on analyses run at the Cato Institute. The odds of an American being killed by a refugee terrorist are 1 in 3.6 billion.
This is because our vetting is already extremely rigorous. Three agencies play a part: the State Department, which leads the program, and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service at the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the Department of Health and Human Services. Because our officials are very thorough, vetting takes up to 2 years or longer.
There is no information on what will happen during the 120-day suspension that would strengthen our current vetting procedures.
Mr. Trump said the ban is “going nicely.” That could not be said by Miriam and her parents. For Miriam’s parents, it means heightened uncertainty and anxiety and the possibility of years more in waiting. For Miriam and her brother and sister, it means the wish of living in America and going to school and playing sports and eating in a cafeteria on school days may be whisked away from them just as it was within reach. Psychologically, this is devastating.
And for what? Miriam’s family has already been thoroughly vetted and determined to have nothing to do with the terrorists they fled. They left Afghanistan to live in safety and dignity, something they could not do in their own country. Let America continue to be a great place to live, where the world’s tired and poor, already vetted, can live in safety and dignity.