On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed off on an executive order to temporarily ban immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries: Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, and Sudan. This bill has been met with staunch opposition by many who claim that this ban is unconstitutional and is targeting Muslims. Protests have occurred in cities all over the United States, including Boston, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, and San Francisco. Thousands of people of all different nationalities and religions appeared to defend the people being affected by this ban, which included a number of permanent residents and persons with legal visas. Major companies such as Microsoft and Amazon have spoken out about the effects this ban will have on their employees. President Trump’s immigration ban is very clearly harming the lives of many of its citizens and its legal workers and students. In our own state the SUNY system encompasses more than 22,000 international students. So, what does this situation have to do with you, the SUNY Poly student who might not be one of the 22,000 students that could be affected by this ban?
On Thursday, February 2nd, SUNY Poly student and Chief Justice of SUNY Poly SGU, Patrick Medve, proposed a bill at the SGU meeting in which he stated that we, the SUNY Poly SGU, should secede from SUNY SA. Medve cited the actions of SUNY SA President Marc Cohen as the reason for his proposed secession. Cohen has recently spoke out in his capacity as SUNY SA president against the immigration ban imposed by President Trump. In a statement, Cohen stated “The President's Executive Order halting the legal immigration and free movement of refugees and citizens of several Muslim-majority countries to enter our own, a country of immigrants, is discriminatory and wrong. We, the elected leaders from across the 64 campuses of largest system of public colleges and universities in the country, stand united in our shame of this hateful decision.” In a joint statement with CUNY University Student Senate Chairperson Chikaodili Onyejiukwa, Cohen and Onyejiukwa, as the “duly elected student representatives of our respective student bodies,” decided to take action against “...the discriminatory Executive Order issued by the President of the United States” on behalf of the 1.2 million students who attend SUNY and CUNY schools. They held a “Call to Congress” day on February 1, 2017, and stated that “We have a responsibility to act on behalf of those who cannot act for themselves.” Medve claims that Cohen depicts President Trump “...as a non-American holding office” and says “Our Commander-in-Chief is perceived as illegitimate, despite having a fair, yet divisive, election.” Despite Medve’s accusations, nowhere in any of these statements does Cohen or anyone else claim that President Trump is a “non-American” or that he is “illegitimate.”
Medve claims that President Trump’s Executive Order is not a ban on Muslim countries or Muslim people, and claims that Cohen’s “knee jerk reaction includes taking an argument to Congress utilizing our school’s name in one of the 64, where many students are divided one way or the other.” According to his statement, the countries that President Trump banned immigration from “...have been found to support ISIS financially, militarily by sending equipment, and/or by being home to their bases of operation.” Medve also stated that “We must stand together as Americans, not as whites, not as blacks, not as Asians. We are one together and we must support our new President, else we risk a new conflict at home.” While it may be true that ISIS’s de facto capital is in Syria and ISIS does have operations in the countries listed in this ban, this last argument is a very misleading and disingenuous claim. Why? Because the records show that, since September 11, 2001, no terrorist attacks have been carried out against the United States by any persons from any of the seven countries mentioned in the executive order.
Numerous deadly terrorist attacks have been carried out against the United States since 9/11. The most recent, and most deadly of these attacks, happened just last year at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people at Pulse nightclub. This shooting was a gratuitous act that seemed to bring together people of all ideologies. Mateen was born in New York, and his parents are originally from Afghanistan. Afghanistan was not on the list of countries presented by President Trump. In addition, Mateen wasn’t even an immigrant; he was born and raised here, in the United States. The second most recent attack took place in San Bernardino, where Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik shot 14 people to death in an office. Farook was born in Chicago, and his parents are originally from Pakistan. Malik was born in Pakistan and raised primarily in Saudi Arabia. Again, neither Pakistan or Saudi Arabia are included in President Trump’s executive ban on immigration. In other words, a ban like this wouldn’t have prevented either shooting, because both Mateen and Farook were born in the United States.
As far as claiming that this ban is not a “Muslim ban,” again if you do any sort of research yourself on reputable and generally non-partisan news outlets, you’d be hard pressed to not infer this order is directed at Muslims. President Trump proposed a “total and complete shutdown of all Muslims entering the United States” in 2015 and during his campaign, stated that he would propose a system where Muslim Americans would have to be entered in a database. However, the most convincing evidence for the claim that this ban is a “Muslim ban” comes from a combination of the wording of the executive order and an interview between President Trump and David Brody from the Christian Broadcasting Network. The executive order states that the secretary of state is supposed to “prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual's country of nationality.” On the surface, this appears to simply be a statement claiming that religious minorities should be prioritized, which sounds like a good thing. However, this claim loses much of its reliability once you actually look at the list of countries: every single country is a Muslim majority country.
During the interview, Brody asks, “Persecuted Christians, we've talked about this, the refugees overseas. The refugee program, or the refugee changes you're looking to make. As it relates to persecuted Christians, do you see them as kind of a priority here?” to which President Trump simply replies, “Yes.” After being asked to confirm, Trump goes on to say
“They've been horribly treated. Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible and the reason that was so unfair, everybody was persecuted in all fairness, but they were chopping off the heads of everybody but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair. So we are going to help them.”
While it certainly is true that Christians have been on the receiving end of violence from radical terrorist groups in the Middle East and that 99% of refugees accepted into the United States from Syria in 2016 were Muslim, while less than 1% were Christians, these figures are very misleading. If one only heard what President Trump stated in this interview, one could come to the conclusion that Christians are the main targets of terrorist attacks in the Middle East, and that the United States was making it extremely difficult for Christians facing religious persecution to find refugee status here. However, these statements simply aren’t true.
According to the Pew Research Center, 38,901 of the refugees admitted to the United States in 2016 were Muslim, and 37,521 were Christian. I was unable to find information about refugee applicants, only on actual refugees. Based on this information, it hardly seems accurate to suggest the United States is favoring Muslims over Christians when accepting refugees or making it more difficult for Christian refugees to get accepted. Also, there is no proof that ISIS has been “chopping off the heads of everybody but more so the Christians.” While it is true that hundreds of Christians have been murdered by ISIS, it’s also true that thousands of Muslims have been killed and displaced by ISIS. According to NPR, many Christians have been killed and kidnapped by ISIS: 88 Eritrean Christians were kidnapped in 2015, 28 Ethiopian Christians were executed, 262 Assyrian Christians were kidnapped in Syria, and 50 were killed in a suicide bombing in Tel Tamer. However, these numbers are nowhere near as large as the number of Muslims being affected by ISIS: around 1,700 soldiers in Iraq were either executed or have gone missing. More than 700 Muslim men, women, and children of the al-Sheitat tribe were slaughtered in Syria, and videos of their beheadings can be found online. ISIS also executed approximately 120 Syrian soldiers when they overtook Raqqa in 2014, according Reuters. Therefore, the claim that Christians are being persecuted more than Muslims simply appears to be unsubstantiated.
Furthermore, the idea that President Trump had a “fair, yet divisive, election” as Medve claims, is a wildly unfair conclusion to make. Despite President Trump implying that the White House only claimed that Russia, or “...some other entity, was hacking” after Hillary Clinton lost the election because the White House was unhappy with the results, there is evidence that Putin had a campaign to influence the election. The Obama administration publicly stated that it believed Russia was behind the cyberattacks against the DNC a month before the election took place. The U.S. intelligence community has stated in its Intelligence Report on Russian Hacking that:
“...Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.”
As Medve stated, President Trump certainly ran a divisive campaign. He claimed that Mexico was “sending people that have lots of problems...They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” suggested that Megyn Kelly was asking him “ridiculous questions” during a debate, and that you could see “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her whatever,” and said that John McCain “was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Americans also remain divided on whether the election was won fairly. Regardless of whether President Trump was elected fairly, however, the people of this country are under no obligation to “support our new President, else we risk conflict at home.” If someone is unhappy about the election of President Trump or any of the things he does while in office, that person most certainly has the right to express their discontent according to the First Amendment. Protests and riots are not synonymous, and to imply that they are, or that they are both equally poor ways to express your discontent with something on this scale, is absurd.
Also, seceding from SUNY SA would do nothing but further divide everyone involved. How one can profess a desire to stand together as one and simultaneously propose removing our entire student government from SUNY SA because they don’t agree with the actions being taken by SUNY SA is perplexing, and contradictory. We should come together as Americans, and if you genuinely want to do that, you must come together as Asians, as Blacks, as Whites, as Native American, as LGBTQ+, as Muslim, as Christian, as Jewish, as Atheist, Republicans, Democrats, etc. These are the people that comprise America, and to disregard all of those distinctions directly contributes to the problem our country is facing: we can’t come together as one by disregarding our differences. We must embrace these differences, and protect those who are at a higher risk of persecution or injustice. Otherwise, what kind of America are we living in? What kind of Americans are we?