A Ray of Hope for Refugees as the Fight Against Fearmongering Continues | The Center for Victims of Torture

A Ray of Hope for Refugees as the Fight Against Fearmongering Continues

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Marie Soueid is CVT policy counsel.

In a victory for a multicultural and accepting United States, a federal judge yet again disagreed with the Trump administration on the refugee ban executive order. Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii made clear that the attempt to ban travel from six Muslim-majority countries and refugees across the world was not about national security. Yet, the administration stated its intent to continue to challenge this ruling and push through its worldview on immigration.

The Trump administration’s immigration policy has been a harrowing example of government action that creates much bigger problems than the one it’s purporting to solve. Citing virtually no evidence of its necessity, with only an inconclusive and undocumented reference to 300 open FBI investigations, President Trump issued the revised executive order stigmatizing refugees and the residents of, immigrants from, and descendants of immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has begun implementation of two other executive orders targeting immigrants and asylum seekers from Mexico and Central America. The combination of these actions signifies that this administration is on a campaign to “otherize” and dehumanize millions of vulnerable people by creating unfounded fears of foreign-born populations, and Judge Watson’s ruling alone will not prevent that. Americans’ refusal to accept this worldview can prevent it.

The judge’s order came down just hours before the Muslim and refugee ban was to take effect, and it represents a ray of hope for refugees and many clients here at the Center for Victims of Torture. A large number of our clients come from among the countries specifically banned, and they come to us because of the torture and war atrocities they survived before fleeing their homes and the lives they had once enjoyed in those countries.

Over the past six years, five million refugees have fled Syria—one of the six banned countries—to Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. Although they once dreamed of return, the destruction would force them to return to the rubble that remains of their homes. Thousands have been preparing to build new lives with the communities ready to welcome them in California, Michigan, Texas and New Jersey, after years of displacement, but instead faced the crushing reality that the United States wished to close its doors to Muslim victims of ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Assad regime. Because Trump’s order drastically reduced the number of refugees allowed into the United States in 2017, it remains unclear if Judge Watson’s ruling will have any effect on changing this cap.   

Furthermore, the so-called transparency provisions in the executive order banning Muslims and refugees that mandate the publicity of—even peripheral—involvement of any foreign-born individuals in any criminal acts, highlight the thesis statement of this administration on immigrants: use propaganda tools to force the creation of an unsubstantiated link in peoples’ minds between foreignness and criminality. It accomplishes this by creating a government-sanctioned name-and-shame database of immigrants who are suspected of crimes, even though refugees are—by definition—the victims of terrorism and persecution. The implementation of the executive orders on immigration enforcement inside the United States accomplishes a similar task by publishing a weekly log of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, even though they are consistently lower than those committed by native-born citizens.     

Such actions reflect blatant disregarded for the well-documented effects such rhetoric has on the most vulnerable, including immigrant children in the United States. Moreover, this approach aims to undermine a well-known fact that immigrants, particularly refugees, are the least likely to commit crimes in the United States.

National security and foreign policy experts, including officials from DHS, have opined extensively on how discrimination based on nationality and religion undermines U.S. security and its moral authority around the world. In addition to concerns about unsound policy, there are real human beings who will be deeply and permanently affected by the stigma and dehumanization.

In stunningly hypocritical fashion, the Muslim and refugee ban simultaneously shut the door to victims of gender-based violence and mandated the public shaming of immigrants who have perpetrated gender-based violence. Manal, a former CVT client and Syrian nurse who was dragged out of her house in her nightclothes and thrown into a makeshift prison, was forced to listen to the brutal rape of other detained women. She was repeatedly threatened with gang rape herself. She and thousands of others like her would have been indefinitely barred from resettlement under the ban.  

Victims of domestic violence in the United States are similarly being re-victimized by Trump’s immigration policies. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are arresting and detaining immigrants inside courthouses. This has affected domestic violence victims who are afraid to go to court for restraining orders or testify against their abusers. Several courts have been forced to drop cases against actual perpetrators of gender-based violence. Their names may appear on Trump’s name-and-shame list, but that’s unlikely to be a comfort to their victims. Instead of protecting the victims of gender-based violence, this administration hopes to stigmatize entire populations for perpetrating gender-based violence, without substantiation or context, while ensuring its victims have no protection or safe haven.

The Trump administration’s immigration policy conflates victims with perpetrators when the facts belie this premise. The administration realizes that policies that tear families apart and keep people in precarious refugee situations, despite long-standing American leadership on refugee protection, are more palatable to the American public when immigrants are stripped of their suffering and humanity and are implicated in hypothetical crimes that, in reality, they are more likely to be victims of than commit. Our hope is that the American public continues to send the message that the federal courts are championing: the Trump administration’s immigration policies are based on a false fear-mongering narrative and are incompatible with America’s laws and values.



We heal victims of torture through unique services and professional care worldwide.

Read More


We strengthen partners who heal torture survivors and work to prevent torture.

Read More


We advocate for the protection & care of torture survivors and an end to torture.

Read More