Mayor’s support of refugee ban is unfortunate and misguided

Mayor’s support of refugee ban is unfortunate and misguided
Mayor’s support of refugee ban is unfortunate and misguided

In Tuesday’s Times-Union story about how President Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees is affecting individuals and institutions in our city, Mayor Lenny Curry made statements that seemed rooted in fear rather than reason.

 While I oppose Trump’s executive order as a matter of morality, policy and history, my frustration with the mayor has less to do with his support of it and more to do with how he has framed our local debate.

As the mayor of a city with the nation’s sixth-largest Syrian and eight-largest Iraqi population, we are all due a specific and comprehensive explanation about why he supports an executive order that is already causing pain and confusion among people who are our neighbors, colleagues, students and friends.

Instead, Curry, in a show of support for Trump’s policy, referenced terrorists who “want to kill us” and who have “leveraged a weak vetting system to do so.”

Vetting is not weak

If Curry believes the vetting system is weak, then he needs to explain what makes it weak when evidence and history suggest otherwise.

No refugee from the Middle East has carried out a terrorist attack on American soil, and only three have occurred in history — all three committed by Cuban refugees in the 1970s.

In the past 40 years, only 20 refugees out of 3.5 million who have come to the United States have been convicted of committing or plotting an act of terrorism. That’s 0.000006 percent of the refugee population in the course of four decades.

Curry also invoked Sept. 11, 2001, to make his case and suggested that “some critics” of Trump’s order “may have forgotten.”

Forgotten what exactly?

Have we forgotten the trauma and horror that the nation endured in the wake of the attacks?

Have we forgotten the fact that none of the 19 hijackers were refugees — or from any of the seven nations affected by Trump’s order?

Have we forgotten the tightening of airport security, the overhauling of the once broken visa system that allowed the hijackers to slip through and the massive expansion of federal surveillance powers under the Patriot Act that occurred after 9/11?

9/11 is a bad example

Does Curry invoke 9/11 just to dismiss Trump’s critics for their lack of remembrance, something he cannot possibly know about them, or was his intention to generate local debates about security policy in our post-9/11 world?

For the past two years, I have taught American history at Florida State College at Jacksonville’s Downtown Campus. During this time, I have had the honor of teaching a wide range of students who reflect Jacksonville’s rich social and cultural diversity, including refugees from places like Aleppo, Syria, and Baghdad, Iraq.

impressive students

My students from Iraq and Syria have been particularly passionate about studying the history of the nation they now call home.

They have escaped the horrors of war and sectarian violence that have shattered their former homes and, in some cases, their families, in ways most of us cannot comprehend.

They have embraced their new nation, and their new city and are trying to rebuild their lives and families, to live out the American dream like we all are.

They eventually deserve more direct and specific explanations from their mayor about an executive order that throws that dream into question.

We all do.

Scott Matthews is a history professor at the Florida State College at Jacksonville’s Downtown Campus.

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