Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a refugee resettlement agency that challenged the Trump administration's travel and immigration bans in court, is coming to Santa Fe.
His organization joined the Maryland case that fought Trump's executive order, in which the president sought to bar people from six Muslim-majority countries, plus Venezuela and North Korea, from entering the US.
Hetfield will discuss his advocacy work on behalf of refugees at Temple Beth Shalom (7 pm Thursday Oct. 26. Free. 205 E Barcelona Road, 982-1376).
He spent a little time with SFR by telephone in advance of his visit. Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did Trump defend the travel ban in court?
He says the president has the right to restrict the entry of immigrants or others based on national security concerns. It's a discriminatory measure disguised as a national security concern.
What does the administration use as an example of our need for national security?
They mentioned 9/11. They mentioned the Paris attacks that happened when he was first running for president, when he first made this pledge. That's when he and 31 governors said Syrian Muslim refugees should not be allowed into the US, even though there was no Syrian involved in that attack in Paris on Nov. 13, 2015. It was not in the US, and it didn't involve any Syrians, so I don't know why that would be relevant to Syrian Muslims.
During the campaign, people saw the chaos in Europe and they saw the terrorist attacks. Americans were scared, so politicians like Trump thought, 'How are we going to show Americans we're not going to let that happen here? What solution are we going to come up with so we don't have the mess that Europe had?' The idea they had was, 'Let's blame refugees and let's blame Muslims.' So, all Muslims are potential terrorists, they say. It's racial profiling, pure and simple.
Most refugees trying to come to this country are trying to flee Muslim extremists. They're not coming here to bring it, they're coming here to get away from it. What Trump is doing is deliberately confusing the perpetrators with the victims. HIAS is a Jewish agency and that's something we relate to because in the 1930s, we were not allowed in because of anti-Semitism and so-called security concerns. They didn't want to let in European Jews because they could be radicals or extremists. We've seen this happen before and we can't be bystanders when we see it happening again.
Refugees go through a rigorous security screening process to get into the US, and this process is enhanced for Syrians. Can you describe the process?
No country in the world has a screening process as rigorous as the one the US uses to screen refugees. Every refugee is interviewed, usually for an hour, face to face, in front of a Homeland Security officer. Their fingerprints are taken and electronically transmitted and follow them wherever they go for the rest of their lives. Their fingerprints, biodata and names are run against multiple international law enforcement and intelligence databases. For Syrians, they undergo enhanced interviewing. Their interviews are even longer and their files are sent to Washington for extra review. Every refugee has to write down their family tree. They're not only looking at the refugee, but the refugee's relatives. It's quite extraordinary what they make refugees go through. No terrorist in his right mind would try to get to the US through the refugee program simply because it's so intrusive. There are easier ways to get in than applying to be a refugee, but these are facts that don't seem to matter to President Trump. He said, 'We don't know who they are. We don't vet them,' which simply isn't true.