xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement

Refugee suspension: 'a shameful betrayal'

I was a team leader of the last group of U.S. immigration officers to interview refugees in Damascus, Syria in 2011. Our officers interviewed Iraqis whose lives were shattered by the insurgency that was one of the results of our experiment in "regime change," justified by false intelligence information, fabricated by political ideologues. We refugee officers struggled to sort out whether the refugees displaced by our own country's actions meant us well or ill.

I was also an immigration service manager who helped form the asylum program within the Department of Justice in 1990 and later our refugee program within the Department of Homeland Security in 2005. I am now retired from government service, though I've continued consulting work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). I've also worked with World Relief-Anne Arundel (closing now due to the president's actions) and the International Rescue Committee as a volunteer in Maryland through my church in support of refugees already in the United States.

Advertisement

But I'm basically a retired law enforcement officer who worked for measures to improve the quality and integrity in asylum and refugee procedures and decisions. "Quality" means making fair and unbiased decisions. "Integrity" means devising measures to prevent fraud and to protect national security.

The refugee resettlement program suspension in the recent executive order might not be all bad, depending upon how it's used. President Donald Trump has lowered admissions from 110,000 to 50,000 for Fiscal Year 2017, which began in October, and roughly 36,000 refugees have already been admitted into the U.S. since then, so this might be a good time to pause and look at how processing might be improved with greater integrity.

Advertisement

However, if the president, his chief strategist Steve Bannon and others believe we are in a war with Muslims because the Judeo-Christian West is supposedly being invaded and that Muslims are the "enemy," then the new administration's intent in pausing refugee processing is certainly not the same as mine. It is rather a shameful betrayal of bipartisan commitments we have all made internationally for decades.

And while the president has nearly unlimited authority over refugees seeking to enter the country, if he is seeking to exclude people based on their religious beliefs rather than to address national security threats or intended procedural improvements, it is certainly unconstitutional.

Section 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act defines "refugee," and it is up to Congress and the American people to change that definition, not the president. The president should be trying to work through Congress if he wants to get this legal definition amended — just as it was amended to include persons who fear coercive family planning practices a few years ago.

Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution regarding executive power says, the president "shall take care that the Laws be faithfully executed." The U.S. acceded to the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees when we signed the 1967 Protocol, and then Congress wrote implementing legislation, which is the Refugee Act of 1980. President Trump must follow the refugee law or work to get it changed.

In his follow up executive order issued Monday, President Trump cited FBI information that over 300 people admitted as refugees are currently under investigation for potential terrorist-related activities, a number than may include associates and family members of the suspect. Presumably, the FBI has reliable information that led to opening these investigations, and of course, these investigations must be pursued.

However, the existence of an investigation is not proof of wrongdoing. Over the past 15 years, the FBI has "gone undercover" into Muslim communities throughout the U.S., reporting on them and opening investigations on various people suspected of being involved in terrorist activities. In many cases, agents have encouraged targeted individuals by pretending to be extremists looking to recruit others — in other words, coercing them into breaking the law.

What is perhaps little known is that the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program led the way within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in vetting applicants. The USCIS Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate borrowed one of its main goals — to detect fraud and national security vulnerabilities in immigration benefits systems and work to close them — directly from the USCIS refugee program. I know; I was the Refugee Counter Fraud Coordinator when FDNS was formed more than a decade ago. The refugee program has led in the mobile deployment of biometrics technologies that have directly led to the identification of persons posing security risks, preventing their entry into the U.S.

So, President Trump's suspension of the program appears to be a betrayal of what we have stood-for as a country: a haven for the oppressed. And it is making enemies of refugee friends, along with the roughly 3 million Muslims in the United States and 1.6 billion other Muslims around the world. Making enemies of friends is not good policy.

Joseph P. Martin is retired from the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. His email is jpchicagomartin@gmail.com.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement