It appears President Trump is enraged that the Prime Minister of Australia, my country of birth, asked him to honour an agreement struck with the Obama administration to take in 1,250 refugees currently enduring dire conditions in the island state of Nauru. The call between the leaders of two longstanding allies was the “worst yet”, according to White House insiders. On Twitter, the President said he would study the agreement but not before declaring it “dumb.” Hardly suggestive of an open mind.
In his short but spectacular rise as a politician, it’s clear President Trump grasps the power of social networks like Twitter to “create a movement.” What a tragedy, then, he chooses to rally his base against the most weak and vulnerable people on earth.
I’m the first to concede Australia should not get a free pass on this issue. The deal with the Obama White House was a desperate effort on the part of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to save face, and political capital, over his government’s inhumane treatment of refugees. Turnbull cannot credibly claim the moral high ground, but the apparent fissure in the relationship with the U.S. is a setback for both countries, and one whose greatest victims, yet again, will be those without a vote or a voice.
This is a time for developed countries like the U.S. and Australia to show global leadership in devising a durable solution to a global refugee crisis brought about by the conflict in Syria, and from the after-effects of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, leaders of both countries are trying to wash their hands of the problem. But, if they pursue the current path, the blood stains will be ineradicable.
President Trump’s executive order on visitors, immigrants and refugees from several Muslim-majority countries is a radical departure from American values and an affront to common decency. Unless he changes course, his administration will quickly alienate a generation of millennials who prefer bridges to walls — at home and overseas.
Concerns about border security are legitimate. People are entitled to feel safe from external threats to their own country. But how wrongheaded to direct executive actions against the most vulnerable people on earth, and not the tyrants and terrorists who are already using this callousness as a rallying cry.
It won't make America safer or stronger, but weaker and less safe. John McCain, Lindsay Graham and 1,000 State Department officials have made that exact point, but will this White House listen?
Will they listen to the veterans who are pleading on behalf of Iraqis who risked their lives to work as interpreters during and after the invasion, and who have been detained at airports by virtue of their ethnicity and religion? Will they hear the cries of the family of a nine-year-old child with a congenital heart condition, or a cancer-stricken infant also held in custody at an American airport? Americans from every walk of life will rightly see this as indefensibly heartless and cruel. Our hope is that Congress and the courts live up to their obligation to act as a check on executive powers— constitutional safeguards developed by the nation’s founders for precisely moments such as these.
The United States already employs the most stringent vetting and background checks for refugees in the world. The president’s executive order acts as if those checks don’t exist, but all the “alternative facts” in the world doesn't change the truth: not one refugee from the seven named countries has committed an act of terror on U.S. soil. For all the president’s dark murmurings about “the next Boston bomber,” the actual facts speak for themselves: the threat to America doesn’t come from refugees, but from the very people from whom they are fleeing.
Democracy doesn’t begin and end with voting. We are obliged as citizens to hold our leaders to account between elections. That’s why Global Citizen is challenging the U.S. government’s position on the refugee ban. We will implore our eight million members to rally to this cause until the Trump administration reverses these discriminatory executive orders. Until this happens, we cannot begin to address fully the world’s challenges.
As Australia and the U.S. bicker over the plight of a handful of refugees, the global crisis worsens every day. Failure to act with compassion, and to honour their respective international obligations, will be a blight on the records of Turnbull and Trump. It’s not too late for both to reverse course, and truly make their respective nations stronger and safer by embracing a policy towards refugees worthy of both countries’ proud record of welcoming settlers from across the world.
Hugh Evans is the CEO of Global Citizen