I have yet to visit Puerto Rico, but I would like to go sometime. One of the night guards in my dorm says he has a house there that my friends and I could stay at—so I may take up the offer if it still stands. I mention Puerto Rico because my ancestor Pedro Salsedo was a page on the Santa Maria, which, captained by Columbus, landed there in October of 1492. That crew had no foreknowledge of what North America was or what it was destined to become.
Now, several centuries later, there is no mistaking the promise and opportunity that this continent, and particularly these United States, offers to those who dwell here. The act of journeying from poverty or oppression to seize something better is courageous and commendable. I have friends whose parents risked everything to escape unsettled Middle Eastern countries and partake in our democratic tradition—and even serve in our military. For these people, the temporary immigration ban is most unfortunate. But I contend that it is also sadly necessary.
The crux of our identity is freedom—freedom of religion, speech, expression, and ambition; freedom that hinges on an unsigned yet uncontested social contract to a government that, by consent of the people, protects it justly. We subscribe to a bipartisan brand of liberalism rooted in the belief that all people, equally created, inherently hold rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness through their honest labor. We have shed blood for these values, and we have sacrificed in order that other nations could taste the same. My dad, my uncle, and many family friends have responded to the call to serve in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, and they have done so willingly. I acknowledge and appreciate that many people in these war-torn countries hold a deep respect for their service. But some do not—and they say so openly.
In scorn of our ideals of freedom and justice stand executors of radical Islamic ideals, and the many sympathizers who observe their deeds approvingly. I cannot accept those who behead and crucify Christians, call for a second Holocaust, abuse women horrifically, or treat with great violence those who do not adopt the same beliefs. The bystanders who fail to condemn these practices commit no lesser sin, and neither the actors nor the silent spectators will edify the liberalism that defines our nation—to deny this conclusion signifies either ignorance of atrocity or arrogance in refusing to recognize it. Frustratingly, many of these people seek entry among the innocent, and in these times, due caution is necessary to protect our solid ground of liberty from anyone who fundamentally opposes it.
Many argue that the ban callously labels entire populations as radical. I would like to point out that the order is temporary and short-lasting, and is installed chiefly to allow the administration time to hone a more thorough vetting process without simultaneously compromising security. It aligns with the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act (H.R.158), passed by Congress in 2015—with a 407-19 House majority—under President Obama. In summary, the Act prescribes that entry to the U.S. from other countries will be permitted only if the governments of those countries cooperate in the effort to screen travellers thoroughly and fully share relevant information with the United States. Nations under special scrutiny are those known to house terrorist cells and those deemed to have dangerously loose border and immigration control mechanisms.
Contrary to common accusations, President Trump's policies are not against Muslims, as 87 percent of the world's Muslims, dwelling in countries like Indonesia, Egypt, and India, remain unaffected by the ban. The seven nations that have been put under the ban were first listed as “countries of concern” in a 2016 law passed under President Obama's administration. (The term “countries of concern,” specified in H.R.158, refers to nations that have not met the criteria for adopting adequate screening techniques, enforcing satisfactory border security, or duly cooperating with the United States in sharing information.) Notably, the law of 2016 in principle carries much more weight than any executive order, which stands only insofar as it is supported by law. With the nations under the current ban, President Trump has merely formalized something in response to dangers recognized before his election, in accordance with legislation that has already been passed.
My purpose in writing this is not to spark pointless controversy, but to remind us all of who we are, what we foundationally believe in, and the difficult task we face in balancing compassion for the foreigner with the hallowed freedom we enjoy. There is no pleasure in signing or carrying out an order to halt immigration from these seven countries, and President Trump has wrestled with the ramifications of tighter borders, especially for children of illegal parents born in the United States. His executive order is not heartless, but was crafted in a rational effort of protection as we look to instate firmer measures of security moving forward.Alexander J. Cullen ’18, the former secretary of the Harvard Republican Club, is a biomedical engineering concentrator living in Leverett House. The views expressed in this article are strictly those of the author.
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