We spoke to Professor Elizabeth Ferris of Georgetown, who is a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, about the recent “Muslim ban.” Ferris has written about the “disastrous ripple effects” of that executive action. In her interview with Second Nexus, she describes why Trump’s policy against Muslim immigrants does not comport with American culture, and has some suggestions for Trump’s anti-immigrant supporters and Muslims seeking to come here.
SECOND NEXUS: What concerns you most about the Trump’s administration’s actions against immigrants and refugees?
FERRIS: I fear the international repercussions of these actions. Why should Lebanon continue to allow over a million Syrian refugees to remain if the U.S. rejects receiving 10,000 Syrian refugees because they’re a perceived security threat? If Lebanon or Tanzania or other countries follow these examples, the international refugee system could collapse. I also fear that this is challenging the very core of American identity – that we are a nation of immigrants, that diversity is valued, that anyone who works hard – regardless of ethnicity, religion, country of origin, or family background – can do well in America. This has served us well, it defines us, it sets us apart from most countries in the world. I think this is what makes America special, and I fear that we may lose this. I am encouraged by the demonstrations, that many hundreds of thousands of Americans and immigrants feel strongly enough to go demonstrate in favor of diversity and immigration.
SECOND NEXUS: Do you agree that Trump’s executive order effectively treats all Muslims as potential terrorists?
FERRIS: I think it is very much in line with Trump’s campaign promise to ‘ban Muslims’ from coming to the U.S. There’s no escaping the fact that the seven countries are all Muslim-majority countries. There are other Muslim majority countries which represent a more obvious terrorism threat (such as Pakistan) or that have more repressive policies toward Christians (such as most Gulf countries & Malaysia).
SECOND NEXUS: What words would you use to characterize that executive order?
SECOND NEXUS: Do you agree with White House suggestions that the majority of American people approve these actions against Muslim immigrants?
FERRIS: No, I don’t think most Americans support these actions and am encouraged by the popular reaction to them – even though I recognize that there is a lot of misunderstanding and fear among our citizens. I’m from Texas and spent the Christmas holidays there. I was struck by what different realities we have in the United States. I do believe the popular reaction against coastal elites, the extent to which so many of our citizens feel that they have been excluded from the benefits of economic growth, are issues that progressives need to respond to. I also am deeply worried about the extent to which we all live in our ‘alternative realities,’ for example, only listening to news broadcasts which reinforce our own opinions and perspectives.
SECOND NEXUS: What would you say to an American who agrees with Trump’s travel ban, and what message would you want to send Muslims living in America or residing abroad who hope to live the “American dream”?
FERRIS: My immediate inclination would be to tell an American citizen who supports Trump’s decisions on Muslims why he or she is wrong. But that doesn’t work. What does seem to have an impact is supporting anti-immigrant Americans to talk with refugees and immigrants, to hear the personal stories, and to realize that they do not pose a security threat to their lives. That personal connection – more than all the well-reasoned arguments in the world – is what changes people’s perceptions. This is one of the reasons the refugee resettlement program has been so successful in the U.S.: It depends on volunteers from all political backgrounds.
I have seen very conservative, evangelical Christians be the most generous and compassionate hosts in welcoming refugees, helping them get started in the US. Muslims in the U.S., whether Muslim-Americans or immigrants or visitors, are welcome and valued members of our society. Our lives and our country have been enriched by their contributions. We’re going through a rough patch right now, and Islamophobia is alive and well, but most Americans will welcome and accept you. If you choose to live here, and can make it through all the immigration hassles (which have always been difficult for all immigrants, regardless of national origin or religion), you can have a very good life here.