I’ve just read President Trump’s Executive Order on refugees and immigrants. It is, pro forma, a confusing document written with the precise obfuscation of a bureaucratic state and, once parsed, offensive to the human spirit and American traditions in almost every way. Yet, by my understanding, it is legal and defensible. The nation does, in fact, have the right to establish its own laws for immigration, even if many of us believe that those choices are violative of our fundamental values and aspirations. We lost the election. Let’s win the next one and change it back. That’s democracy.
At least that would be the case, but for this one paragraph, and it changes everything. In it the Trump Administration, and all those who serve it, cross an ethical Rubicon into darkness, though you’d be excused for missing it on the first, second or even third read.
“Sec. 5, Subsec. b) of the President Trump’s Executive Order restricting immigration regulations implementing barriers to refugees seeking asylum in the United States.
Upon the resumption of USRAP (U.S. Refugee Admissions Program) admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality. Where necessary and appropriate, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation to the President that would assist with such prioritization.”
That is the paragraph that will be highlighted in the history books if Trump’s America turns as dark as it might, because that is the first legal authorization for the United States to prioritize Christian lives over Muslim lives. It doesn’t say so directly, but as all the nations at which the order is directed are majority Muslim, the result is clear.
Christians first. Muslims last.
It is, in a truly sobering way, the first law of a new age. The antiseptic nature of the words – their innocence as they hide between the dark trees of sophistry and solonic remove – is chilling. Perhaps it is intended to be. I can’t pretend to know just how deeply the fear of – and hatred for – Muslims goes in members of this Administration, though the public pronouncements of many high-ranking ministers and counselors is enough to turn a rat’s stomach.
Still, there it is.
Christians first. Muslims last. American law.
This is a tough one to know how to resist. Those that it injures are, by definition, at far remove from our shores. The only ones of us who will have contact with enforcing this new edict will be those in the Refugee Admissions Program, or, perhaps, members of the Judiciary if a Muslim currently seeking asylum somehow manages to argue both standing and injury, though that would take years to plow through the system.
There won’t be many of us who face this initial test of the new era. Maybe a few hundred? Yet, for those individuals, at least they have the honor of being the first to stand tall against an immoral order. We should all encourage them to do so.
Resist. Break the chain of command. Make lists and protect as many people as you can, regardless of their religious beliefs. All of humanity’s better angels impel you to do so. Make us proud. Make us better than we are today. Make us more human.
The other option is easier. Befehl ist Befehl.
Befehl ist Befehl. That was the defense of many German soldiers and bureaucrats in the wake of the War during the Nuremberg Trials. ‘Command is Command.’ In English it is normally expressed as the just following orders defense and, crucially, in a morally awakened world, it was not accepted.
This is a tough place in which those Citizens now find themselves, but they are, in fact, there. Sec. 5, Subsec. b) of the President Trump’s Executive Order pertaining to refugees and immigrants is a fundamentally immoral order. Cleo will take the record, and someday, someone will read it and know just who we were, once upon a century.
More and more of us, perhaps, will face those moments of decision in the years ahead, but what is sure for each and every one of us now, is that we are all equally stained with the orders that say:
Christians first. Muslims last.
The line has been drawn.
Choose a side.