Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Representing the 1st District of Nebraska

Fort Report: Security and Generosity

Feb 6, 2017
Fort Report

On the wall outside my office hangs a framed copy of one of the first pieces of legislation I worked on. The bill increased the number of Iraqi translators who could come to the United States. Serving alongside our troops, these translators had put themselves and their families at grave risk in service to our country. Among those who have benefited from the policy were members of the Yezidi tradition, a peaceful, ancient faith that ISIS has targeted as part of their extermination campaign against Christians and other religious minorities, including innocent Muslim communities.

America has long opened her arms to persons fleeing persecution who wish to rebuild their lives and become good citizens. My hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska is a diverse and welcoming community with a number of first-generation Americans, and we are the better for it. However, when there is chaos and disorder at the border, or uncertainty in immigration policy and procedures, this undermines the ability of our country to be generous—or worse, affects our safety.

President Trump’s Executive Order, Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry to the United States, suspended all new-refugee admissions into the United States for 120 days. In addition, it blocks all travelers for 90 days from seven "countries of concern"—Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen (a list created by the Obama Administration in 2015). Refugees from Syria are banned indefinitely. Travelers from these countries with a green card will be allowed to enter since they are permanent United States residents.

From my perspective, I believe it is reasonable to pause and review our refugee policy from dangerous parts of the world. But the implementation of the policy has caused confusion, difficulty, and concern—some of which was clarified throughout last week.

As an example, a Yezidi man named Nawaf, who translated for our military, visited my office last Monday night requesting help for his wife Laila. Two of his brothers live in Lincoln. Although I did not recognize him at first, I remembered that a president of a university in Iraq once told me about a Yezidi student who had become the class valedictorian of an Iraqi university, and I began to piece the story together. Nawaf arrived in America last year. Following 18 months of vetting, his wife was awarded a special visa a week and a half ago, but as Nawaf, with great composure, told me, Laila was barred from entry.

Immigration and refugee policy always involves difficult choices. A country has to consider absorption capacity, the possibilities of assimilation, and the necessity of accepting the values of the host country. A review of policy in Europe sheds some light. Germany recklessly threw open its border recently. Waves of persons—many young single men—entered the country, sparking an uptick in crime and violence, and possibly the conditions for more terrorist attacks. Confusion still continues as to who is where. Germany’s rapidly considered and naïve refugee policy has unwittingly created an anti-immigrant backlash, as well as political turmoil.

Immigration and refugee movement should always be a matter of last resort. Everyone can't come to the West. Rather, it is the responsibility of governments around the world to create the conditions in which persons can live securely. If this breaks down, robust humanitarian assistance and repositioning persons in nearby safe zones creates the possibility of a right of return—avoiding the trauma of uprooting from one's home and culture.

Yet, with all of the complex considerations surrounding immigration, it is always important to remember that we are dealing not with statistics, not with remote policy, but with the lives of real persons. Happily, last Friday morning, after my office worked successfully on her case, Laila arrived. With open arms and flowers, Nawaf greeted her at the airport—and welcomed her to America.

If you would like to hear me engage with this conversation further, please click here to visit my speech made on the house floor.