Punishing Muslims for Being Muslim

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ThinkstockPhotos-479900380Most of the organized Jewish community, along with most civil libertarians, shuddered as the new administration issued an executive order effectively targeting Muslims who want to immigrate to the United States.

The order suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days for review. It indefinitely bars immigration of Syrian refugees. It calls for a blanket 30-day ban on visas to people from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. And it prioritizes claims of religious persecution that essentially favor Christians who seek refuge in the United States from majority-Muslim countries.

This slash-and-burn approach to an otherwise manageable security situation — on full view last weekend, when even legal permanent residents attempting to enter the United States were sent back to their points of origin — support the conclusion that the White House, despite repeated assertions to the contrary, wants to punish Muslims for being Muslim.

Our community takes pride that the United States is a land of immigrants. Most of us are children or grandchildren of immigrants, as is the president himself. So we cringe when blanket immigration restrictions are imposed in a wholesale manner and especially when the effect of the restrictions is to consign a religious group to unjust treatment. As explained by the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, the umbrella agency for Jewish community relations councils, “These pronouncements not only severely restrict immigration, they instill fear among existing immigrant populations that they are not welcome and may be at risk.”

The American Jewish Committee and our own Jewish Community Relations Council joined many other Jewish organizations in criticizing the ban, with some of the organizations calling it “deeply un-American” and an effort to improperly target Muslims fleeing violence and oppression. The outlier was the Zionist Organization of America, which commended the president for “understanding and acting on the need to keep all of us safe from radical Islamist terrorism.”

The immigration ban, coupled with another order to start building a multibillion-dollar wall on the Mexican border has, in one week, sent a disconcerting international message of American intolerance and isolation. And similar concerns have developed on the domestic side, with the administration signaling its intent to deny federal funds to so-called “sanctuary cities” that do not cooperate with federal immigration officials. In other words, the White House will make local governments pay for the feds’ inability to overhaul broken U.S. immigration policy. That shifting of responsibility makes no sense. And for that reason, we agree with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who said last week, “The only real solution to reform our immigration system is to pass comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for the 11 million” undocumented immigrants already in this country.

We encourage an approach that shows concern, compassion and understanding toward immigrants and those seeking refuge from persecution and that furthers the image of the United States as the indispensable nation, rather than the new global bully.

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