Ugly American in chief: Trump’s immigration ban targets those who aided U.S. forces
Executive order denounced in Sacramento County, which welcomes more Iraqi and Afghan visa holders than any other California county
Michael Breen thinks about the 19-year-old Iraqi woman who kept him and his men alive.
Moved to join the fighting effort against insurgents in her homeland—after the U.S. military had toppled Saddam Hussein in the name of democracy and nonexistent weapons of mass destruction—the young woman served alongside Breen’s Army unit, warning soldiers where the IEDs hid. Eventually, the enemy learned her identity and murdered her, Breen recalled.
Breen offered the slain woman’s family what he and other military officers offered so many Iraqi and Afghan interpreters and soldiers and their families: safe passage to America, away from the people who would do them harm for helping U.S. troops. Breen considered it a sacred pledge from a grateful nation, one that could be boiled down to an essential cliché: Help us and we’ll help you.
Upending four decades of U.S. policy, President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Friday blocking entry to the very men, women and children who help American soldiers wage the war on terror, often at great sacrifice to them and their loved ones.
“To say to her family that they can’t come [to America] … it’s an absolute disgrace,” Breen, now the president and CEO of the Truman National Security Project, said during a Monday conference call with reporters. “We explicitly promised these people we would protect them. These are the words that came out of my lips as a representative of the U.S. government. The Trump administration made me a liar.”
With his January 27 order, Trump unleashed chaos with the swoop of a pen, sparking massive and spontaneous protests at airports where arriving refugees and other legal immigrants were detained, questioned and, in some cases, put back on a plane and deported.
The order targets visa holders and refugees from seven majority Muslim countries for at least 90 days and bans Syrian refugees indefinitely, including veterans and people with immediate relatives in the United States. It also drastically lowers the cap of refugees the country is willing to accept in the future. The ban also initially applied to green card holders, though there have been conflicting statements about whether that remains the case.
Since its signing, Trump’s order has set off an extraordinary sequence of events that are still toppling like dominoes. The ban took effect immediately, meaning people who boarded planes with permission to enter the United States touched down in a drastically new world order. Attorneys and protesters raced to airports in New York, Virginia and San Francisco.
In solidarity, a sister protest was organized at the Sacramento International Airport on Sunday, with more than 400 people saying they attended on Facebook. Mayor Darrell Steinberg spoke, condemning the ban, which will immediately affect the flow of refugees into Sacramento County, which accepted 1,962 Afghan and Iraqi citizens with special immigrant visas in the fiscal year that ended in September, according to the state Department of Social Services, far more than any other California county.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups quickly sued, winning two nationwide injunctions protecting refugees, green card holders and visa holders from the affected nations, ACLU advocacy and policy counsel Jonathan Blazer said during a separate conference call. But he and others have heard unsettling stories that the court orders weren’t being honored by Trump’s airport gestapo.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations filed what is expected to be one of many new lawsuits on Monday, when the Trump administration also fired acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates for ordering her people to stop defending the order in court.
Meanwhile, messages condemning the ban have come from the California Senate, as well as interfaith and intelligence communities. And there was a universal agreement among critics that Trump’s order was both unnecessary and hugely damaging to to America’s reputation in areas where it needs the most help.
“The vetting process is already extreme,” said Shawn VanDiver, a U.S. Navy veteran and Truman National Security Project defense council member. “The Trump administration is trampling on those promises. … [The refugees] fought their own countrymen because they believed in the promise of America.”
And it’s sending a clear message, said Betsy Fisher, policy director of the International Refugee Assistance Project: “The U.S. is not worthy of trust.”