As a former refugee from Iraq and a proud American citizen, I’ve closely followed the public debate and legal battle right through Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision about President Trump’s travel ban. But I haven’t talked to many people who have actually read it.
If they did, and knew their recent history, they would find that this travel ban is essentially no different — and no more aggressive — than other policies handed down by Democratic and Republican administrations.
Consider this: In 2016, Christians and Yazidis made up less than 1 percent of refugees coming to the United States from Syria, even though the two religious groups together are well above 10 percent of the country’s general population — and were on the receiving end of most of the persecution. The Muslim population was far over-represented in the refugees who were allowed into the United States.
So President Barack Obama’s policies in reality favored Muslim refugees from Syria over and above Christian refugees — by a long shot. All the while a veritable genocide was taking place against Christians in the Middle East at the hands of militant groups like Islamic State.
When I came to this country as a refugee in 1982 after fleeing the Iran-Iraq war, I was also held up by restrictions on refugees. But it was something I fully expected. I’ve never met any refugees from the Middle East who expected to have the welcome mat automatically rolled out for them in any country they chose — especially the United States, which arguably has the single biggest target on its back for terrorists.
That’s because securing the blessings of liberty means taking certain measures when allowing people to cross our borders from nations who’ve been shown to harbor terrorists.
Trump knows this. And Obama did, too, when he also targeted immigrants from the same countries under his visa waiver program in 2016.
So it’s asinine to think one can decry Trump’s executive order as a “Muslim ban,” after having said nothing about Obama’s visa waiver program, which made few headlines.
Like millions of other refugees in the early 1980s, I had to go through a screening process in order to be accepted into the United States. And I thank God that because of an executive order from President Ronald Reagan, I was able to reunite with my family here.
Today, even though I’m a citizen of this great country, I’m still singled out when it comes to travel. I often go through extra screening, I’m asked extra questions, and I receive much more scrutiny than white Americans any time I re-enter the United States.
Why? Because there are people who look like me, talk like me and have names similar to mine who want to do harm to this nation. So I welcome any additional screening because it means our government is doing its job of keeping our people safe.
Should we show compassion to the hurting? Yes. Should we help those — Christians and Muslims alike — who truly want nothing more than a peaceful life? Absolutely.
But doing so also means we have to understand there are bad elements infiltrating the global refugee community.
I truly hope America will take this temporary travel ban and become better at vetting those who want to enter our country. And until this period is over, I believe we would do well to be patient and allow our government officials to do the work they were elected to do: keep our country safe.
Jalil Dawood is the author of “The Refugee: A Story of God’s Grace and Hope on One Man’s Road to Refuge” and the founder of World Refugee Care. He wrote this for the Philadelphia Inquirer.