Seven Muslim-majority countries referenced in proposed temporary refugee ban accounted for almost 40 percent of all U.S.-bound refugees over past decade. Article written for Data Journalism class at Temple University.
A great American anthem proclaims to migrants that “this land is your land,” offering refuge to immigrants of any nationality to join a nation built by differences and grounded in hospitality for those who seek sanctuary.
But American citizens and politicians have drifted from these values, allowing their country’s humanitarian efforts to be buried deep beneath fear of terrorism.
In the past decade, politically-charged civil wars and terrorism in the Middle East and the Greater Horn of Africa have erupted into violence, displacing many innocents who oftentimes fear they’ll never return. The war in Syria has intensified over the past two years and sent thousands fleeing their homes. In 2015, the U.S. received 16 times the number of refugees from Syria than it did the previous year in 2014. Under President Trump’s travel regulations, however, Syrian refugees are barred indefinitely from entering the U.S.
Syria is among the seven Muslim-majority countries in question as the president and the Judiciary grapple over his 120-day ban on refugees entering the U.S. from said countries. Officials are bypassing Trump’s orders, but if the orders prevail, refugees from nations in turmoil will be forced to remain in there or find an alternate refuge nation. The seven countries being banned – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Syria – accounted for 39 percent of all refugee arrivals to the U.S. from 2008-2015, over the course of the Obama administration.
Halting refugee and asylum privileges for these countries eliminates a significant number of America’s refugees overall. It especially diminishes the U.S.’s help to those suffering in the Middle East from destruction and continued violence caused by American-involved wars. About a quarter of refugees who arrived during the Obama administration were from Iraq.
But while Trump proposes to postpone refugee arrival from the seven countries, over the course of the Obama administration the number of refugees granted affirmative asylum from these countries – and overall – remained low. America’s refugee and asylum seeking process is two-tiered: if asylees (refugees already on U.S. soil) are granted affirmative asylum, they are allowed to stay in the U.S. as a non-citizen, or go through the legal processes of becoming one. It’s open to anyone who arrives, whether legally or illegally, and applicants must fit the characteristics of a refugee – someone fleeing war, or persecution because of race, religion, social group or political opinion. Even with these terms, a majority of applicants are rejected. Defensive asylum is temporary; these asylees are already in the U.S., but are threatened with deportation because of criminal activity or lack of proper documentation.
Considering the number of affirmative asylees, potential terrorism threats from the seven Muslim-majority countries named did not go ignored through Obama’s eight years. While 31 percent of refugees from countries other than the seven were granted affirmative asylum, only 6 percent of arrivals from the seven were. Both presidents, so far, have shown reluctance in allowing citizens of these countries to remain in the U.S.
For defensive asylees, it’s a long legal battle with the Department of Homeland Security and immigration officials, and most of the time refugees from the seven countries do not meet requirements and are rejected.
War-tarnished countries have also left thousands of children displaced or exposed to threats of violence in their home countries. Americans recall the emotional image published in national newspapers of a Syrian father clutching his young son’s dead body; the boy drowned as they attempted to flee the nation by boat last year. Children became the face of the refugee crisis, as displaced under-16-year-olds represent 31 percent of all U.S. refugee arrivals during the Obama administration. Only 10 percent of these children, however, were granted asylum.
Over the past decade, America’s allowance of refugees, specifically those from the seven countries Trump is attempting to ban, hasn’t changed much. As concern for the members of these nations grows, America has the opportunity to become a nation which welcomes people abandoned by their own. The opportunity wanes as President Trump promises to toughen immigration and refugee policies.
*data from yearly Refugee and Asylum Reports by the Department of Homeland Security. Data analysis can be viewed at https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B71H3A6yc1y-b1V0dGlrQjZYMGc