Sunday, January 29, 2017

Porte Fermèe

On November 13, 2015, members of the Middle Eastern terrorist group ISIL organized an attack on Paris, France. A triad of extremists descended upon the darkened city and began systematically detonating previously placed explosive devices around the city, namely in restaurants and cafes. One unsuccessfully tried to enter a sports stadium and detonated his bomb outside the area. One group of gunmen raided other eateries and began shooting several innocent patrons. Another group carried out a massacre in a local theater where the metal band Eagles of Death Metal were performing. Bodies and pools of blood filled the roads and sidewalks and screams filled the air. Innocent civilians were fleeing through the streets of the City of Lights as the country was enveloped in the darkness of senseless violence.

As first responders arrived on scene, authorities advised everyone to avoid travel, seek shelter, and stay off the streets. Then the Open Door Movement began. Parisians all over the city began publicly tweeting their addresses with the hashtag #porteouverte, translated to Open Door, indicating that their home was a safe house to anyone who could not get home that night, that shelter, food, and a place to sleep would be provided until the city was safe again. Parisians knew the dangers of allowing strangers into their homes. What if they were robbed? What if they were attacked? What if the person they were letting in was one of the terrorists themselves, seeking a gullible family to eliminate? But they didn't care, because the danger of helping a complete stranger was far less greater than the danger that lurked in the shadows on that fateful night.

There is a great danger lurking in the Middle East. Between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Syrian conflict, there are thousands of innocent civilians being brutally murdered with bombings, shootings, massacres, and even burnings. In Aleppo, men, women, and children caught in the middle of a civil war have been ruthlessly slaughtered, and make every attempt to flee the city if they have somewhere to go. Many don't.

Jordan, Lebanon, Kurdistan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt have taken most of the load in the Middle East in terms of providing safe havens. Over the past four years, over 4.8 million refugees have sought asylum in their neighboring countries. Gradually they started shifting over to Europe, where countries including the UK, Germany, and Sweden begin accepting refugees and estimate to have housed 500,000 of them as they cross into EU borders. Some families become desperate, like Alan Kurdi's family, who drowned when attempting to cross the sea into Turkey. He became international news when his small body washed up on a Turkish beach, reminding everyone of the gravity of the dire situation in Syria.

In spite of their great intentions to help their fellow man, eventually the efforts of these countries fell far too short. The conditions of the camp deteriorate as funding dwindles and many of the countries can no longer manage the extra thousands and millions of mouths to feed, clothe, and house. In camps in Jordan, they live in sorry excuses for a tent, where they struggle to stay warm through the frigid winters without enough blankets, sweaters, heaters, and few doctors to treat them when they become sick. In other camps, many described the settings as degrading, some were housed in what they described as imprisonment. Some Syrian women resort to prostitution to feed their families. And though many countries provided asylum away from the bombings, the death, and the terror of war, the refugees were not always out of danger. In many camps, refugee women were being sexually assaulted. In one Turkish camp, a worker was discovered to be sexually abusing young Syrian boys, at times paying them 70 cents to $1.70 to have sex with him. He did not deny these allegations, but he reported multiple workers in the camp were doing the same.

The added pressures of taking on refugees and the economic strain that tightened around these nations was beginning to take its toll. Turkey began to turn from the humanitarian cause and began unofficially refusing entry into their country. Soldiers were found to be shooting and beating Syrian refugees at the borders, and a Turkish factory was discovered to have been making fake life jackets that were provided to migrants attempting to flee to Greece. This was found after 30 emigrants washed ashore Greece's beach, prompting a raid and investigation.

Distrust also began to grow in the EU as well. As a very select few of the emigrants committed criminal acts (like select individuals of every ethnicity, race, and nationality do), Europeans began to associate these acts with the culture and religion as a whole. If one migrant acts like an asshole, they all must be assholes. Likewise as terrorist attacks surged in Europe, more and more people began to believe that the open door policy they have maintained have made it easier for terrorists to enter their country (however, attacks like the one on Paris were carried out by French citizens). Intensifying dissent regarding the refugee policies grew, which largely contributed to the Brexit motion of the UK.

The US is not immune to such suspicions. After the attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade centers that killed 3,000 Americans, Islamophobia has been growing steadily, along with hostility. As refugees began filing into the states, more and more people began to turn against them. Though it seemed tensions eased a little under the comfort of Obama's presidency, with the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has been spewing from Trump's mouth since he began his campaign, hostilities are burning hotter than ever. Following the attacks on Paris, more people called for closing our borders, and Trump set out to do just that.

On January 27th, he signed a bill indefinitely restricting Syrian refugees from entering the country, along with temporary bans of other Muslims from various other nations including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. This includes refugees who have already been approved to come to America, students who went home to visit their families during the holidays and cannot re-enter, and immigrants with valid green cards, whom are set to be sent home. There was chaos at the airports as many incoming Middle Easterners, Muslims, and refugees were detained by customs and set to be deported. Some were handcuffed and interrogated. One New York judge stopped the deportations but has not motioned to allow them entry into the US. Protests are rampant, but Trump reports that they were "well prepared" for the rollout and felt that it was "working out very nicely, you see it at the airports, you see it all over." Apparently he hasn't turned on a TV. His ban has already brought legal challenges from two refugees, and more are set to follow. In response, Iran is blocking US citizens from traveling to their country as well. The silver lining for refugees is that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is happy to accept them and perhaps they can be re-routed up north until we can get Trump fired.

Some have supported the ban citing these ongoing fears of terrorists getting into the country. Let me briefly touch on the 9-step process refugees must go through in order to be approved to come to America for those of you still concerned with national security:

1. Basic identifying information is collected, applicants are interviewed on their need for relocation (only 1% of all applicants are approved to move on to step 2).
2. They are relocated to a federally funded camp, formal identification documents are collected, biographical security checks begin
3. They are screened by the National Counter-Terrorism Center, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the Sate Department to ensure they are not a security risk, they are not connected to other security risks, and have no history of criminal activities
4. They are heavily interviewed by multiple agents from Homeland Security and they run fingerprints
5. Fingerprints are run through the FBI, the Homeland Security office, and the Department of Defense (any security concerns result in rejection of application)
6. Medical checks are run (any medical issues result in rejection of application)
7. Applicants take cultural orientation classes and have a location identified for them
During this time, ongoing security checks are run repeatedly to ensure no new information arises on their records before they are sent to their new country.
8. Travel, processing through customs and TSA regulations
9. Arrival in the US, immediately begin the lengthy process to obtain a green card, including more security and background checks. If they do not obtain one within one year, they are deported.


This entire process takes approximately one and a half to two years as applicants are excruciatingly, painstakingly screened. Knowing the extent of this process, knowing that their records will arise and not only will they be rejected but detained and prosecuted, I sincerely doubt that ISIS or ISIL was using the refugee status application as a means to get to the US. And closing the borders won't stop them either. Do you really think the rebels of ISIS are going to say "aw shucks guys, they closed the borders! Well, I guess we should give up and go back to being farmers!" All we are doing is condemning the innocent civilians of war torn countries to die in their homelands, be sexually assaulted or starve in their camps, or to be recruited by ISIS.

In Paris, whatever dangers were present, on that night, the people were united. They opened their doors, they risked their own safety to provide safety to their fellow man from the evil of this world. They didn't ask for ID first, they didn't demand papers, they didn't ask about their religions. They simply said "come in, you will be safe here." Had I the opportunity, I would open my door to you, I would welcome you in and keep you safe. Sadly, there is no safe haven here for you for now my friends, no American dream, no opportunity or liberty, no pursuit of happiness. Our doors are portes fermèes; closed. But please believe that we will continue to fight for you. When Trump closes a door, we will break it down.

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