Posts Tagged immigration

Conservative and pro-refugee

I really enjoyed this piece at Arc of the Universe, which may be a happy new find. It describes itself as a blog “where secular and religious meet in conversation about global justice.”

In any case, from the piece by contributor Michael Griffin:

“…the policies of this week, in particular the executive order of Friday, deserve robust condemnation—especially from Catholics.  We are the tradition of faith and reason. Not only is this order unchristian but it is also irrational. Of the terror attacks that have occurred in the U.S. since September, 11, the number of perpetrators from the list of banned countries is precisely zero.  Why was Saudi Arabia not on this list, or Russia, both of whom have been home to terror perpetrators in the U.S.?

While there are more eloquent ways to state the opposition to this ban, I think that the faith and reason test is simple and clear.  Indeed, if our Thomistic tradition teaches us that grace perfects nature, then what we are seeing is how irrationality perverts faith.  And indeed, I dare say that some outside of our Catholic, pro-life fold are waiting to hear from more of us about why our faith—faith in the person and teachings of Jesus—is not quite as offended by the present actions as it was by the previous administration.”

Please go read the whole thing, it’s worth your time.

I’m interested in the fact that conservatives (whatever that means any more) are so willing to defend this action. Partisanship isn’t surprising, of course, but I don’t think this is a conservative solution.

I consider myself a conservative because I resist throwing out things that work; I think it’s quite proper to acknowledge the value in tradition, in something that developed for a reason and has stuck around for a reason (see: Electoral College). I’m concerned, always, with unintended consequences of big changes. For example, while I argued against Obamacare and thought it was a terrible idea, I’m also deeply worried about the consequences of a reckless repeal. And, American conservatism tends toward small-government, federalist, subsidiarity-based solutions that I will almost always prefer to big-government bureaucracies.

I’m instinctively skeptical when someone tries to sell me on some Big Thing that will Fix All My Problems. So, I’m as skeptical when President Trump tells me that keeping out all the Iraqis will keep me safe, as I am when the cashier at Best Buy tells me about the extended service plan for my printer.

It’s absolutely true that there have been no recent fatal attacks in the U.S. by people from these countries. Every fatal act of terrorism in the U.S. recently has been committed by a U.S. citizen or legal resident. While there have been three attacks in recent years by immigrants from these countries, none were fatal–and in two of the three examples, the attacker was brought over legally at the age of two. Now, that’s not nothing. And this list of countries is, in fact, totally defensible for other reasons. But the facts call for a serious process of vetting visa applicants and refugees. The facts do not automatically justify a total shutdown of travel from these countries. The difficulty must be weighed against our moral obligations, which are also not nothing–both to refugees in need of help in places like Syria, and to already-vetted travelers who may now be separated from their families and lives.

What stuck out for me in the above quote was, “if our Thomistic tradition teaches us that grace perfects nature, then what we are seeing is how irrationality perverts faith.” St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “grace does not destroy nature but perfects it,” that is, God does not have to change who we are or violate our will in order to save us; rather, he invites us to allow him to restore what is lost and broken in us. We remain always free, always ourselves, while pursuing what is good. It’s an interesting observation that, conversely, one must ignore the rational case for welcoming refugees in order to ignore the religious case. If we choose to turn away from what is good, we are no longer fully free to consider the matter from the standpoint of reason, either.

None of this is to say that reasonable people can’t disagree. If one’s priority is protecting America *at any cost*, then you can make a case for these restrictions. But real people are harmed by this action, like the example given in the article; and if you include that fact, the case starts to get real shaky real fast.

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Overstating the case for AND against Trump’s travel ban

There’s an important principle to follow in rhetoric. If you overstate your case, you can be right, but you still lose the argument. Arguing beyond the facts allows your audience to assume the facts aren’t actually on your side, otherwise, you wouldn’t need to push them. This happens all the time in politics, and it’s part of why we all get so mad. We ignore the real points and focus on the overblown ones.

There’s a lot of that going on, on both sides, when it comes to this immigration executive order. I want to talk to both sides here.

“Muslim ban”

Nope. It’s really, really, not, and everybody needs to stop using that phrase, because it’s arguing beyond the facts. It’s a temporary ban on travel from 7 countries. Countries, not religions. It’s not a list of all or even most Muslim-majority countries, and–this is important–the list of 7 countries is based on national-intelligence threats as determined and already established by the Dept of Homeland Security under President Obama around a year ago. These are the 7 countries that President Obama’s national security team thought most constituted a “threat of foreign fighters.” This order does not ban any members of any religion, nor, again, does it ban travel from all Muslim-majority countries. Neither did the Obama administration base this list on Donald Trump’s business interests. This is all public record.

However, restricting travel and halting refugee resettlement on these countries while leaving the option to allow exceptions and publicly stating that Christians will get first dibs? It’s hard to argue that that doesn’t present an image of keeping Muslims out, especially after Trump’s history of fantastically irresponsible rhetoric about, yes, banning Muslim travel.

“Obama did the same thing!”

Well, sort of. In 2011, we stopped processing refugees from Iraq for six months, in order to overhaul the vetting process after finding that some terrorists had slipped through. This is precisely the same justification being given today. ABC even reported that “One Iraqi who had aided American troops was assassinated before his refugee application could be processed, because of the immigration delays, two U.S. officials said.”

But this also argues beyond the facts. The difference today is, that was just refugees, not all travel–and we weren’t detaining green-card-holding U.S. residents. It seems that the rules as they pertain to permanent residents and dual-citizenship holders are still being determined, several days after the order was signed, and that is a yuge problem. The Justice Dept and DHS were apparently not included in the drafting of the order, something that could have avoided the chaos.

This is a stupid idea

I’ve long argued that refugees are not the enemy, and that despite a legitimate danger, we have a moral responsibility on the matter. This new policy feels very reactionary, as if the Paris attack had just taken place and everyone was spooked. But we’re not reacting to anything here, and as I argued at the time, being reactionary isn’t the best idea anyway. What’s happening here is that the people who thought we should have reacted a certain way, a year and a half ago, are finally getting their way. It’s delayed-reactionism. And maybe this just rubs my detail-oriented, six-sigma personality the wrong way, but it comes across as a sign of massive process issues if this idea can percolate for over a year and somehow still be a reckless, slapdash embarrassment upon rollout.

These are the questions I would ask concerning such a policy. Will it prevent terrorism? (Nope.) Will it reduce the risk of terrorism? (Probably not much.) Will it harm people? (Yep.)

The best I’ve seen Trump apologists argue for this is that it’s temporary, and necessary. Temporary just means it’s only bad for a while. And necessary? Not so fast. How many terror attacks have come from these countries? I can see taking a very good look at people immigrating from these places, but a total ban on travel, one that immediately upon enforcement harmed innocent people?

The worst argument I’ve seen is that it’s actually not nearly as bad as people thought it might be. Should we breathe a sigh of relief over a truly bad policy because the president argued for something even worse in the past? Bluntly, that justifies any bad thing you can think of, as long as you can also think of something worse. No, that’s not a reason to like this order.

Should we take a hard look at our vetting process? Yes. Should we just throw open the borders and allow anyone in? No, and we never have. We can continue to cap the number of refugees we accept, just like every other country. Even Canada. We can vet those we let in. But we figure it out, and we do it, and we do it because it’s right. This is a part of American greatness. Doing the right thing, because it’s right.

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