Altered travel ban reveals America to be a cowardly, bad neighbor

Last week, the highest court in our land approved a temporary ban on the entry of refugees into the United States.

While the justices implemented some limitations on the original travel ban executive order, they also allowed for a partial implementation, which will deny visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority nations, as well as ban entry of refugees from around the world. What this really means though, since most of the people from the six visa-banned countries aren’t likely to be coming for a tour through the American countryside, is that we are refusing entry to those who need it most.

And it has gotten me thinking about firefighters, good neighbors and what it means to be American.

My toddler loves fire trucks. He loves mimicking the noise they make. I think most kids feel this way, because fire trucks are cool and firefighters are heroes — and who doesn’t love a hero narrative? The concept of firefighters encompasses something very American: They are courageous, they protect those who need help, they are heroes.

Firefighters show up when the unthinkable is happening, something my son is too young to understand right now. But at some point his interest in fire trucks will probably lead to the disconcerting recognition that heroes exist because the world can be terrible. At some point he’ll worry: What if our house caught fire?

And I’ll comfort him and tell him that we’ll do everything we can to be smart and to practice fire safety, and tell him that we would call 9-1-1, and firefighters would come to help. In the meantime, we would run over to a neighbor’s house to wait. The concept of good neighbors, too, encompasses something very American: They are welcoming, they help one another when in need, they are make a community.

With some exceptions, any citizens from six Muslim-majority countries, and any refugees from anywhere around the world, are temporarily banned from entering our country. Refugees, who themselves are fleeing horror, are banned from seeking refuge in our country. Hardy Vieux, the legal director of Human Rights First, says that these refugees “have strong reasons to look to the United States for protection” — protection that we will not provide. Mr. Vieux also says that by banning their entry, we will “leave refugees stranded in difficult and dangerous situations abroad.”

We have become the neighbors who keep their door shut, and say, “Well, I’m not sure about you guys, who come from a burning home. Maybe you’re the kind of people who start fires yourselves (and I do have a lot of matches in my house), so I don’t want to chance it. But you can wait outside, until we figure this thing out.”

We are the firefighters who arrive and say, “Well, I see your house is on fire, so we’re going to hose down your entire neighborhood, in case one of you is an arsonist.”

Listen, I’m not saying the solution is 100 percent open borders, all of the time. I do think our loyalties should extend to our own countrymen first, because there are, in fact, some bad hombres out there, ridiculous word choice notwithstanding. I’m also not proposing that I have a better plan for how to reconcile the American values of courage, protection of others, heroism, welcoming, helping those in need and a sense of community with the world, with the growing terror in our country. (It’s also not my job to develop such a plan.)

But imposing a blanket ban on people seeking sanctuary from the very kind of terror that we condemn, is definitely not the right way to do it. Anyone who can think for themselves should be able to see that.

So we’ll keep an eye to the Supreme Court, and think about a time when we cared about being the heroes and being good neighbors. And we’ll play with toy fire trucks and read books about firefighters, while outside, those trapped in their burning countries are banned from what was once the land of the free.

Punita Chhabra Rice is director of ISAASE, org (Improving South Asian American Students' Experiences); her email is punita@jhu.edu.

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