Many organizations that advocate for refugees slammed President Donald Trump’s executive action Friday imposing “extreme vetting” on those fleeing to America, among them Jewish groups that took particular exception to the day on which he signed it: Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“It’s repulsive,” said Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a faith-based nonprofit dedicated to resettling refugees in the United States. “I mean, the timing is incredibly offensive.”
“It was during the Holocaust that the world shamefully refused to give asylum to Jews and to others who were being murdered or about to be murdered in Nazi Germany,” Hetfield added, referring to the US government’s decision to turn away European refugees during World War II.
The executive order halts all refugee resettlement for four months, reduces the total refugee quota substantially and imposes travel restrictions on some foreign nationals.
The executive action does not explicitly single out members of a single faith, but the countries impacted are Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, according to a White House official. It also gives priority status to refugees “provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.”
Some Jewish groups were particularly troubled by the implications for Muslim refugees.
“The fact that President Trump’s order appears designed to specifically limit the entry of Muslims evokes horrible memories” of Jews turned away during World War II, the progressive Jewish organization J Street said in a statement ahead of the executive action taking affect. “Most ultimately perished in the Holocaust. That episode remains a blot on the conscience of the United States. It is a terrible irony that today, the same day on which this order is to be signed, is also International Holocaust Remembrance Day.”
Anti-Defamation League President Jonathan Greenblatt put his thoughts on the action’s timing more succinctly: “I think it’s tone deaf.”
He also criticized the Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that Trump issued for not specifically mentioning that many of the victims were targeted because of their Jewish faith.
The Trump administration said Friday’s action on refugees is designed to protect the American public from terrorism by providing an opportunity to institute stricter vetting procedures, particularly for citizens of conflict zones.
“We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas,” Trump said in remarks to Pentagon staff before signing the order. “We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love, deeply, our people.”
One of the most vocal critics of the executive action is former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who came to the US as a refugee in 1948 when her family fled Czechoslovakia to avoid persecution by the Communist government.
“By targeting Muslim-majority countries for immigration bans, and by expressing a clear preference for refugees who are religious minorities, there’s no question this order is biased against Muslims,” Albright told reporters on a conference call Thursday. “And when one faith is targeted, it puts us all at risk.”