THE United States has always held a small place in my heart.
Yes, I am Malaysian and definitely proud of it but I spent a good part of my early teenage years in New York and had some of my most memorable growing-up experiences there.
So I do, every now and then, keep up to date with the news and current affairs of the U.S. No offence to my American friends but I found the last presidential election particularly disturbing, especially the outcome.
In his first few days in the White House, President Donald Trump signed a significant number of executive orders, some of which appeared to be complete U-turns from his predecessor’s policies.
The most recent order was to suspend entry of all refugees for 120 days; ban Syrian refugees indefinitely; and block entry for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Syria for 90 days.
This order took effect immediately and as I was travelling to Los Angeles on Saturday to attend a workshop at the University of South California, I witnessed the chaos, confusion and general fear it caused at the airport and to U.S. Customs and Border Control officers.
When I landed, the LA International Airport was filled with families and friends of passengers, and from the look of bewilderment on their faces, it was clear just how upset they were. Perhaps they were there to reunite with family or with lovers, or maybe they wanted to greet a visiting friend from one of the seven Muslim countries named in Trump’s ban. But the order, signed and implemented quite suddenly, threw these reunions into a state of uncertainty. Even the authorities meant to carry out the order seemed confused about its limits.
Will green card holders be affected? What about those with dual citizenship, one of which is with a Trump-banned nation? How many security screenings will entrants be made to go through? Who approves entry and what’s the criteria for approval? These were some of the questions raised and few concrete answers were available.
So the indignation raised by those at the airport was entirely justified.
Imagine how you’d feel if you had boarded a plane to the U.S. thinking your passage would end smoothly only to be denied entry once you reached your destination or suddenly made to face additional security checks by the authorities.
According to one Homeland Security official quoted in CNN, green card holders returning to the U.S. would be granted re-entry, provided they make it through additional screening and national security checks upon landing. The official said unless they are found to have significant criminal history or links to terrorism, they should be allowed back into the country.
At the LA airport, I watched the chaos and thought to myself: The backlash from Trump’s ban will be grim; apart from triggering widespread protests, it could lead to the break-up of family institutions.
It was, however, comforting to see how lawyers had turned up to offer help to those affected by the order. They held up signs identifying themselves – “Are you affected by the new immigration law? I am an attorney and might be able to help.”
As a Malaysian, my entry was smooth sailing. But the emotional scene I witnessed was definitely jarring.
When my host greeted me, he immediately sighed when I acknowledged the situation. He said he felt very ashamed by what was happening and assured me that this was by no means a reflection of the true spirit of the U.S. and its people – the country’s founding fathers had been pro-immigration.
My host was not the only one who felt that way. According to reports, objections to Trump’s order were raised countrywide.
When I stepped out of the airport, I heard loud chants as people gathered in protest. In fact, protests were organised and held across the country from San Francisco to New York.
Some detractors sought legal redress in court. Reports said several federal court judges from New York, Virginia, Massachusetts and Washington issued emergency rulings against the order.
While these rulings do not mean a reversal of the order, they prevent those denied entry from being deported. That means the government cannot unceremoniously remove persons who arrived into the country and were caught up in the chaos the order evoked.
But regardless of the protests, here’s what Trump has essentially done: he has barred a whole region of the world from the U.S. And that wasn’t all. He also said the U.S. would now prioritise Christian refugees over the Muslims. This makes the order even more disturbing as it clearly pits one religion again another, a dangerous thing to do in a nation already divided by politics.
I get that Trump is just making good on all that he promised during his presidential election campaign. So this is, technically, the will of those who voted him in.
But what about the backlash, then? What about the will of those who did not vote him in? What about the voices of the refugees languishing somewhere in a nation riven by war and conflict? What about their crushed hope and dream of starting a new life in a country often referred to as the “land of the free”?
And if there were ethical and moral arguments for racial profiling in the U.S. in the past, this new move by Trump is really taking things to whole new level.