President Donald Trump’s executive order Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States closes America’s borders to individuals from seven majority-Muslim countries and blocks the entry of refugees from around the world, notably those fleeing the destruction of Syria, which in the past six years has taken the lives of five million Syrians and displaced another eleven million amidst the largest humanitarian crisis the world has faced since World War II.
Critics of the executive order frequently cite the poetic words of The New Colossus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” There is a palpable outcry by those averring that the order is unconstitutional. Among those was a national order issued by a Washington State Federal Judge that temporarily halted many provisions of the order. Ten former National Security officials, including former Secretaries of State and CIA directors, have publicly stated that the executive order would result in the security of the United States being undermined, U.S. troops being put at risk, and the forces of violence and terror being strengthened.
The Federal Judge’s ruling will be but one of countless legal responses by U.S. officials decrying the arguably destructive and illegal act being committed with the executive order’s implementation, and the battle could proceed to The Supreme Court of the United States. Legal experts have asserted that the order is a violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which outlaws discrimination of immigrants based on national origin, as well as the First Amendment right to freedom of religion and the Fifth Amendment right to due process of law.
The contention goes global with citation of The Geneva Conventions of 1949, which detail countries’ humanitarian obligation to take in refugees fleeing persecution without discrimination based on race, religion or country of origin. These standards for international humanitarian law were signed by the United States and 195 other countries and cannot legally be suspended. In addition, the United Nation’s 1968 International Conference on Human Rights proclaimed international responsibility to uphold the inalienable and inviolable rights of all people, including refraining from returning refugees to countries where their lives and liberty are being threatened.
As widespread resistance to Trump’s executive order continues, social workers need look no further than the National Association of Social Worker’s Code of Ethics in regards to the treatment of refugees. A key value in the Code is Social Justice, the very foundation of the Social Work profession, which espouses that every person deserves equal rights and opportunities, with special regard for oppressed, disadvantaged and exploited people.
Social Workers ethically must value the dignity and worth of everyone. Discrimination is not to be practiced, condoned or facilitated on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, age, immigration status, religion, or mental or physical disability. The Code further states that social workers are to promote conditions that enable humane treatment of all individuals nationally and globally.
The current refugee crisis has left over 60 million people displaced globally, many of whom have survived traumas such as witnessing extreme violence and destruction, murder of loved ones, physical and sexual abuse, human trafficking, looming threat of death, loss of home and possessions, and loss of their land and home country. Many are seeking sanctuary in vein while enduring forced migration, homelessness, and stays in detention centers where daily injustices serve to compound the horrors already being faced.
America’s history is rife with shameful treatment of refugees, which is often in response to baseless or misguided fears. People from Cuba, Haiti, Vietnam, Ireland and many other places can all claim a history of being looked upon with disdain and derision. World War II provides a glaring example of America’s hostility toward refugees, when far too little was done far too late to assist Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust.
There is much to be learned from the United States’ history of action-- and inaction-- in response to xenophobia that threatens not only the well-being of refugees but of all people. And it will remain the role of social workers to hold the frontlines in this fight for universal social justice.
Crises like the brutal civil war in Syria will continue to cause immense suffering and engender intergenerational trauma for years to come. Arbitrary national boundaries and unscientific racial classifications will continue to present opportunities for unabashed displays of racism and oppression. Likewise, social workers will face the perpetual task of fighting-- tirelessly and full of hope-- in defense of the human rights of all people.