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Trump's #MuslimBan is built on false claims Open in fullscreen

Daoud Kuttab

Trump's #MuslimBan is built on false claims

Religion must not be used for or against an application for travel or immigration [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 February, 2017

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Comment: President Trump claims his travel ban is needed to stop an Obama-endorsed torrent of Muslim refugees to the US, writes Daoud Kuttab. But there never was any such thing.
Trump's travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen as well those with dual nationality), even if they possess valid visas, is based on false information.

The presidential executive order is founded on a totally unsubstantiated claim that the Obama administration opened up the gates, allowing unvetted individuals to enter the US.
What President Trump's order alludes to - but doesn't say outright - is that the previous Democratic administration favoured Muslims from these seven countries over individuals of Christian background.

This hint is clear from the exception to the ban, which provides for members of minority religious groups seeking a waiver.

While the executive order hints at religious discrimination, President Trump made the point explicitly. Speaking to the Christian Broadcasting Network, Trump said that the previous US administration had favoured Muslims in its refugee policy.

"If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible."

US consular personnel in embassies close to Syria are totally baffled by this statement. For one thing, American consular officials are not allowed to ask, nor are they allowed to make any determination of approval or dissaproval of anyone seeking to emigrate to the US based on their religion.

The principle that separates religion from politics means that religion must not be used either for or against an application for travel or immigration.
The principle that separates religion from politics means that religion must not be used either for or against an application for travel or immigration
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees carries out the initial process of vetting all refugees. For the US, this is followed by a series of 20 different organisations that vet potential candidates for immigration to the US.

Hazm Almazouni, a Syrian journalist specialising in the situation of Syrian refugees told The New Arab that the claims of the Trump administration were totally incorrect. While he recognises that in numbers, Syrians of a Christian background are far fewer than the majority of Syrians, he feels that they are certainly not discriminated against.

"From my personal observation, Syrian Christian applications are processed faster [...] than those of the rest of Syrians."

The low number of Syrian Christians seeking immigration to the US has nothing to do with America, and more to do with the situation in Syria.

For the most part, Syrian Christians have not been a major focus of the civil war. The majority live in an area known as Wadi al-Nasara (or "Valley of Christians") an area in western Syria, close to the Lebanese border and administratively belonging to the governorate of Homs. 
Only 67 percent of those approved for immigration actually made it to America
For the most part, this area has not been under the control of Assad troops and its population has not faced the violence that other Syrian areas have faced, which has forced many thousands to seek refuge in nearby countries, Europe and the US.

The American campaign under President Obama was aimed at screening some 10,000 Syrians to be admitted to the United States, but the number of Syrians who actually arrived in the US was much lower.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Resettlement Support Center Middle East and North Africa, only 67 percent of those approved for immigration actually made it to America. The resettlement support centre established just outside the Jordanian capital Amman gives the following details:

* As of January 26th 2017 the number of Syrians who were approved for immigration was 11,822

* As of January 26th 2017 only 4,803 had actually resettled in the US

* 56 percent of the applicants were under the age of 18

* 55 percent had escaped the Syrian violence in 2013

* 96 percent of the applicants had identification documents

* Only 0.5 percent were single male applicants

The resettlement centre that issued these statistics is funded by the US Department of State, Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM).

The centre was entrusted with processing Syrian cases for resettlement in 11 countries throughout the region with a majority of processing taking place in Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and the UAE. 

In addition to the above, a reliable source has said that 27,595 Syrian refugees remain in the pipeline with the various US immigration missions.

US consular officials contacted for this report noted confusion in the US embassy in Amman. Officials are unable to respond to enquiries from those who have been approved and those who are in the pipeline wanting to know what will happen now that the executive order has been issued to stop all immigration procedures of Syrians.
US consular officials contacted for this report noted confusion in the US embassy in Amman
The Trump admininstration is pushing back on local and international critisim of their abrupt and highly conroversial decisions. The White House press secretary speaking in the daily briefing on Wednesday 1 Febraury noted that the majority of Americans in recent polls had indicated support for the president's immigration policy.

The United States was established on the principles of equal rights and non-discrimination regardless of gender or nationality. The latest action by the Trump admininstration has gone against this principle, and may have violated the constitution. US courts and politicians will no doubt argue this issue for weeks and months to come. 

But regardless of whether this order is constitutional or not, it is clearly based on unsubstantiated claims about religious discrimination by the previous administration.

The current administration needs to provide evidence that the US missions in the Middle East, or the various immigration departments that have in the past thoroughly vetted applicants, have acted in a discriminatory manner.

Short of such evidence, criticism of the Trump admininstration for its recent ban on travel to the US will no doubt continue.

Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on @daoudkuttab

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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