30 January 2017

Close the Borders? Law - History - Ethics.

Sub Tuum.

I have seen few things in recent times cause such divisive shock waves around the world as the recent decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to impose a temporary ban on visas for persons from seven Islamic countries. The internet and the airwaves have exploded with heated, vitriolic debate. No doubt similar in-person debates are taking place at this time. Some laud this action as long overdue. Others condemn it as inhumane. Today I used the most powerful weapon that I have, the most powerful weapon on earth, the Holy Mass, to seek the help of God that those who are in turmoil and fighting each other over this recent order by the U.S. President will stop the fighting, stop the acrimony, stop the ad hominem attacks, listen to each other, and come together. Open your hearts and listen to God. Do not create more division while claiming that we are all one. Do not demonstrate hatred to try to prove a point about love. 

First, before continuing, it is important to understand the perspective from which I write this. (How much better communication would be and how fewer misunderstandings would happen if people understood the perspective of others.) Although I am a citizen of the United States by virtue of having been born there and have continued to maintain that citizenship all my life to this day, in my ecclesiastical office I cannot help but consider my primary citizenship to be with Christ's Holy Church and with the Patriarchate that I shepherd. To do otherwise would be to place a worldly state above the ecclesiastical government. Indeed, the spiritual home of the Patriarchate is not in the United States, but in Italy. Its Patrimony is located primarily in Europe. Its scope is international, bringing the love of Christ to all people. 

Also, though I have never been a refugee, I have nevertheless personally suffered travel delays and other problems, even that threatened being separated from my family due to politically-motivated visa issues. I was also subjected to multiple rounds of additional scrutiny by the Chinese communist government over my being a cleric and wearing clerical dress in my passport photo (as I am required to do by protocol) before they would issue me a tourist visa. They insisted that I promise not to engage in religious activities while in China and demanded that I tell them everywhere I was going to be at every moment, as well as where I would be staying - for every day during a three week trip. Although this surely does not rise to the level of impoverished refugees fleeing war-torn areas, I still wondered where the outrage was over that sort of treatment. It was entirely absent. To add insult to injury, I was effectively told it was all my fault for being a clergyman and wearing the attire I am bound to wear as a cleric. 

This is the perspective from which I write here. 

Now, to address the issue as to whether this action of the American President is legal, it would appear that U.S. federal law permits the President to do precisely what he did. It will be up to the government of the U.S. if they wish to change that legal authority. At this point it appears quite legal. 

What must also be said is that the borders of the United States and Europe are, from what I can tell, a complete mess. Something must be done. A nation must secure its borders appropriately for the benefit of both its citizenry and of its visitors - including refugees. 

While there is an humanitarian imperative to help refugees as much as one is realistically able to do, a nation must ensure to the best of that nation's abilities that they are in fact authentic refugees and not abusing the system. While Mr. Trump is receiving criticism over his decision, William Clinton said in a State of the Union address that the nation must be vigilant against those who abuse the visa system. Also, during the Hostage Crisis, U.S. President James Carter ordered visas for Iranians invalidated and placed a ban on issue of new visas for a time except for medical or significant humanitarian purpsoes; and he further ordered Iranian students report to an immigration office for an interview or face deportation. While some may wish to debate whether the actions of Mr. Carter are the same as those of Mr. Trump, it is effectively irrelevant. Of course they are different historical events. The point is that this is not the first time a visa ban has been ordered by a U.S. President over Islamic terrorism.

Just as it is difficult to repair a pipe while it has water flowing through it, it is admittedly difficult to evaluate existing systems and put in new systems that can properly vet refugees and visitors without shutting off the influx of immigrants and visitors temporarily. Was Mr. Trump's approach the best way to handle the situation? Time will tell. In any case, the border situation needs to be resolved appropriately. 

Another troubling issue is that, while mostly-Muslim refugees were allowed into the United States, it appears that countless Christian refugees were left to be slaughtered and persecuted as America turned its back on them. Indeed, they would not have been in that situation if the United States had not mishandled the Iraq War and left a power vacuum that allowed ISIS to reach the level of activity and control that it has. While some have raised concerns that this recent order by the U.S. President targets a specific religious group, the same accusation can be leveled at the American government for having apparently ignored Christians in desperate need due to a problem that it created and forced upon them. 

Yet another point to consider is that there is an ongoing war. Whether one agrees that there should be a war or not is another matter. There is nevertheless a war underway, and it is against militant Islam. For historical perspective, consider World War II. Few Nazi attacks actually took place on U.S. soil. Yet I doubt that the U.S. government was all that free with issuing entry visas to Germans or to those affiliated with the Nazis. (German-Americans were in fact highly watched and often confined to their neighborhoods, and Japense-Americans were widely interned in camps.) There is certainly historical precedent for denial of visas, though the present war is quite different in many respects than the Second World War. 

From the time of the Islamic conquest of Christian lands to the Crusader period to the Barbary Pirates to the present day, Islam and the West have always had an uneasy relationship. Peace has been attained from time to time, but it has been neither stable nor lasting. This is another historical fact to keep in mind.

One final point to bear in mind is that it is a commonly-held misconception that the United States is a nation of immigrants. That is patently false. There were the people of the First Nations (American Indians). Then  there were Europeans who came to the American colonies of Spain, France, Great Britain, and Holland. They were not immigrants, but simply people who moved from one territory of their own nation's territory to another. Immigrant status applies only to those who moved from one country to another, and although there were indeed a few who went from their home country to the colony of another country at that time, "immigrant" applies on the large scale only to those who came to the United States after the time that the United States actually existed. And, the people who came to the Colonies and even the immigrants who came later did so for many reasons. They were not all "fleeing persecution" as the commonly-held myth says. So, yes, the United States has had and continues to have many immigrants - just like any other country. Many of those immigrants have contributed greatly in many ways and make up the fabric of American society. Yet countries with more immigration per capita are not called "nations of immigrants." To call the United States a "nation of immigrants" as its founding impetus is patently non-factual. Historical immigration is simply not a valid argument in this matter. 

A full analysis of this situation would be much more complex. Most people do not have all the facts. I have sought to touch on some main points that I hope will be helpful. Whether this recent executive order by Mr. Trump will prove itself to be a painful medicine leading to a positive outcome for all or be a short-sighted humanitarian disaster will be seen in time. Until then, let us not tear each other apart while simultaneously proclaiming respect for our fellow man. Let us breathe and relax and offer all this suffering up to the poor souls in purgatory. Above all, let us pray.