President Trump and his administration often justify their national security policies by posing a false choice to the American people: that we can either keep America safe or preserve our fundamental values.
That was Trump’s core message in January 2017 when he banned travel to the United States by people from seven Muslim-majority countries, and it’s the message we heard today — three years later — when the president announced that he’s expanding the ban to immigrants from six more countries: Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania.
The truth, though, is that this policy does not make us safer; in fact, it does the opposite. It does not help us fight terrorism, combat extremism or secure democracy around the world. It has senselessly separated thousands of U.S. citizens from their families. It reinforces Trump’s message that we should fear refugees and our immigrant neighbors, and it fuels already growing division and intolerance here at home.
The United States is strongest when we are a welcoming country capable of attracting talented people from all over the world. We’re safer when we do, too. That’s why dozens of national security experts oppose the current ban and why I have strongly opposed it since Trump proposed it during the 2016 campaign.
Targeting people from countries where, in many cases, democracy is just taking root also makes it even more difficult to promote democratic values, encourage economic development and attract talented students who aspire to study in the United States.
Take Nigeria, for example: It has the largest economy and largest population in Africa, and Nigerians represent the largest African diaspora group in the United States, a group that includes doctors, lawyers and professionals across the United States. Nigeria is a multiethnic, multifaith democracy in a region where we have fought long and hard to ensure tolerance and pluralism take root. Nigeria has partnered with the United States on the Global Coalition against terrorism, particularly against Boko Haram, which has killed almost 38,000 people since 2011 and has displaced another 2.5 million. Why, then, would we choose to weaken our ties and our influence with Nigeria?
Just last week, the top court at the United Nations ruled that Myanmar must take steps to prevent further genocide against the Muslim Rohingya minority there. Instead of building on that positive ruling and welcoming more Rohingya refugees to our nation, the Trump administration has chosen, with its expanded ban, to push Myanmar’s government even further into China’s sphere of influence at the worst possible time.
Finally, Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic, has been able to step out from under the thumb of Russia, and, since its independence in 1991, has made great headway in developing its own democratic institutions. Why, as Russia’s regional aggression intensifies, would we make it harder for Kyrgyzstan to protect its independence and nurture its young democracy?
This policy has been rightly criticized as an abandonment of U.S. values that tears apart American families, but these examples show that it is also a grave foreign policy mistake. Though most Americans might never know it, the president’s decisions are causing real harm to people all over the world.
In Congress, I’m leading an effort to reverse this senseless policy through the NO BAN Act, which I introduced with Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) to repeal the president’s Muslim ban and prevent a future discriminatory ban from happening again. We’re optimistic this bill can pass the House this year, and I’m determined to force a vote on it in the Senate.
The United States has been a beacon of hope and freedom to the world for generations because we’ve built our foreign policy and immigration policies on our values, not on fear. Now is not the time to change that.