Hass Agili is an example of how America’s refugee program actually functions, in direct contrast with how President Donald Trump’s first and second travel bans have made it appear.
His experience shows a system that is already incredibly strict in an effort to weed out potential terrorists.
Agili spoke at a New York Immigration Coalition news conference Monday about his long road to the United States that started after he was outed as a gay man while at university in Libya, where gay individuals face prison and even execution.
There must be plenty individuals like him trying to get to America, right? Well, they’re not being let in. Agili (who assumed a new last name for safety) was reportedly the only Libyan refugee admitted to the US in 2016.
He is one person, who faced multiple agencies, interviews, and background checks before being allowed the golden ticket. This was the process under President Barack Obama, whose administration stringently vetted refugees and let in a baseline of some 70,000 a year during a portion of his term. Despite record numbers of displaced people around the world, Trump’s orders close the doors even further.
There’s no arguing that President Donald Trump’s new travel ban has been tweaked and should now affect fewer people than the first one, released in late January to the sound of a thousand protests.
The changes do not, however, change the underlying facts of the situation: neither version makes America any safer from terrorism. And neither addresses America’s responsibilities in the refugee crisis around the world.
Small tweaks don’t fix the underlying flaw
The new order bars most individuals from six predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days. It leaves aside Iraq, which had originally been included. Unlike the original executive order, however, the new one does not single out Syrian refugees for particular animosity, or privilege religious minorities from those countries, an idea that seemed to benefit Christians rather than Muslims.
It includes a 10-day grace period before being enacted, perhaps to avoid the chaos seen at international airports in January when Customs and Border Patrol agents had no idea what to do on the airport front lines. And it does not apply to dual citizens or green card holders — again, different from the original order.
These changes might avoid some of the due process legal challenge that helped bring down the original. But they will have a limited impact on level of safety: a Department of Homeland Security draft report did not find a correlation between the countries specified and likelihood for refugees to commit terrorism, citing State Department and other non-intelligence community figures.
There have been a handful of attacks or plans, but no refugee since the unveiling of the Refugee Act of 1980 has carried out a fatal terror attack on American soil, according to a Cato Institute study, not a particularly left-leaning source.
Those facts are anathema in an executive order that spends hundreds of words describing the situation in Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, without acknowledging that the terror attacks that have taken place on American soil have been carried out by American citizens or people from countries other than those six. And the order says nothing to acknowledge the roadblocks to any refugee at all getting onto American soil, which were clearly in place for Agili.
The reality of keeping Americans safe from terror is more complicated than Trump’s political executive orders make it seem. It means thinking about ways to stop homegrown terrorism, a difficult problem. And it means not demonizing some of the most vulnerable people in the world who America has often made proud noises about helping. Those refugees will now face a ban for at least 120 days.
The first travel ban launched an enormous protest at Kennedy Airport to support refugees and those with green cards and visas trying to enter the US. Pro bono lawyers flooded the terminals to file habeas petitions and offer aid before and after courts began to halt some provisions and then the travel ban itself.
On Monday, NYIC executive director Steven Choi said some of those lawyers had headed back to Kennedy to monitor whether travelers were receiving “untoward treatment” before the order goes into effect.
He and many other legal advocacy groups from the ACLU to the International Refugee Assistance Project promised monitoring and legal action to combat what they described as a still-discriminatory executive order. They also noted the incongruousness of the discussion, the way Trump has continued his hyperbolic actions divorced from fact.
Referencing the lone Libyan refugee standing next to him, Choi said “We already have extreme vetting.”