Saturday, March 19, 2016
Guest blogger: Memoona A. Jah, LLM student, University of San Francisco:
The United States is attempting to close its doors on Syrian refugees without any solid evidence that they pose a threat to the United States. There is no fraction of doubt that the United States has a long history of providing safe harbor to refugees. However, at the same time it excludes a lot of immigrants on the basis of national security, cloaking xenophobic fears of racial, religious and cultural differences.
This exclusion can be traced back to when racial and social xenophobia in the country led Congress to pass a federal law excluding Chinese laborers from entering the United States. The constitutionality of the law was not questioned by the U.S. Supreme Court in Chae Chan Ping v United States (1889) when the Court reviewed a corollary act of Congress. Falling prey to the reactionary politics of the time, the Court held that Congress has the power to exclude particular racial groups, using themes that mirror national security language used today.
Over the years, these types of fears have led U.S. policymakers to pass laws or engage in enforcement efforts that target Mexicans, Japanese, Arabs, and Muslims. Over and over, the United States invokes disturbing “national security” arguments, succumbing to reactionary calls to exclude persons who appear to be racially or religiously different.
In the wake of despicable terrorist attacks, the cloak of hatred has been resurrected again. A variety of state governors used Paris and San Bernardino attacks as a political opportunity to announce that they will not allow Syrian refugees to enter their jurisdictions. The House of Representatives passed a similar bill—the American Safe Act of 2015—that would have placed a temporary suspension on Syrian admissions.
These fear-based reactions ignore the realities of the Syrian refuge crisis and would deprive Syrian refugees their basic human rights. Not welcoming them in United States would stand against the spirit of U.S constitution and international norms. The proposed actions by U.S governors opposing Syrian refugees violate their responsibilities under the supremacy clause of the Constitution. Those actions also would violate principles of equal protection.
These measures and proposals also send a bad message, given America’s international commitments as a signatory to United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The United States also has signed and ratified the United Nations International Convention on the Rights of the Child. That’s important to keep in mind, in light of the fact that 40 percent of all Syrian refugees are young children fleeing for survival.
U.S. and state officials should not instill or exacerbate fear among Americans who continue to be concerned about the attacks of September 11, Paris, and San Bernardino. Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, is emblematic of such a fear monger. He is using fear as a weapon to play with people’s hearts so they become more fearful and suspicious of each other, thereby breaking the element of trust which binds the community together. Hating or discriminating against people of different ethnicities or religion is not a solution. Instead, seeking to become one unified nation of many peoples is what the United States should strive to be. Sowing seeds of division breaks people apart and leads to chaos and havoc.