Action Trumps Hate: Refugees are vetted more thoroughly than Trump was

Protestors flocked to JFK Airport on Saturday to stand with immigrants and refugees. Photo: Kate Hooker

Protestors flocked to JFK Airport on Saturday to stand with immigrants and refugees. Photo: Kate Hooker

First off, apologies for the lapse in sending. This column has been finding itself as we move along into the brave new world of the Trump presidency. Immediately post-election one action a week seemed like the sane way forward. Right now though, trying to distill the chaos into a single story makes me feel crazy, like I’m trying to take the SATs, give a eulogy and play a hand of euchre, all at the same time. There’s so much to know and to do and I don’t want to leave out important information.

So for the foreseeable future, Action Trumps Hate will work like this: every Sunday night, starting tonight, I’ll send out a newsletter that focuses on one topic in depth in the intro, and then provides a calendar of actions and important events, protests and information, one item for every day of the week, below. Think of it as Your Week in Action. This way I can address more of the very many things going on, and also dive deeper into, or make an argument about a particular issue. Good? Good.

For many, the Women’s March was the highlight of January so far, and I found it energizing and uplifting as well. But there was something even better that I got to be part of, especially in light of recent events. I attended my sister’s nursing school pinning ceremony–essentially a graduation–at the City University of New York. It was an evening I will think about and hold close as we move through these perilous times, and not just because I’m proud of my sister.

Each name that was called, each student pinned, added a dot to a world map that surely covered at least five continents. In her speech, the valedictorian talked about the concept of the humblebrag, and the fact that there was no word for it in Russian, her native tongue. She thanked CUNY, and the U.S., for giving her so many opportunities as an immigrant. Judging from the number of different languages swirling around that room she was in the majority as a non-native English speaker. The sense of pride, of accomplishment, of forward momentum, transformed a decidedly non-fancy affair–it was held in the CUNY Tech cafeteria in downtown Brooklyn–into something that felt remarkable. The parents and siblings and children and aunts and uncles and spouses and boos there were overflowing with so much happiness and pride. There was a palpable sense of possibility, that the American dream still does exist, and yes, I know how sentimental that sounds, but I was inspired by being there with those graduates; it reminded me of what America can be.

Then, just about a week later, Trump signed an executive order that is government-sanctioned Islamophobia, disguised with the thinnest of veneers, while continuing to insist that we build a wall along the border with Mexico. Before Christmas I wrote a column about supporting refugees and resettlement programs–it’s still a good resource for helping people on the ground in Syria and for supporting resettlement work in the U.S. And of course, keep protesting the wall, keep speaking up for refugees and immigrants and against xenophobia of all kinds. We need to keep the pressure on. Call anyone and everyone, donate to the ACLU. But remember that it’s just the most incendiary action of the moment–there are several slow burners we need to keep an eye on as well.

This week, the thing I want to you to get good and angry about, in a productive way, is Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns and his allergy to transparency. There’s a connection here. All those refugees and immigrants who supposedly pose a risk to American citizens? They’ve been vetted more thoroughly than our president. This should make us all incredibly pissed.

To be admitted to the U.S. as a refugee you’re first screened by the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, then, once referred to the U.S., you go through screenings by the National Counterterrorism Agency, the FBI, Homeland Security, the State Department and more security agencies. It’s easier for green card seekers, but still not a breeze. My brother-in-law (my other sister’s husband) is Korean, my nephew a dual citizen. Their family spent countless hours doing paperwork, going to various offices, and anxiously awaiting approval for a green card when they moved from Korea to the U.S. a year ago. It’s not easy, you answer a million invasive questions, and because they moved without jobs already secured they had to have my mom sponsor his green card, to prove that they would be financially secure once they arrived in the country. So my mother provided the State Department with copies of her tax returns, happily. Not every situation is exactly like this, but the U.S. looks at your finances to make sure you intend to earn a living or comfortably support yourself with some other source of income when you move to the U.S. This regular family with a toddler was more transparent with the State Department about their financial matters than the President is willing to be.

Trump won’t even release his tax returns so that the same agencies that vet immigrants and refugees so thoroughly can determine whether or not he has financial conflicts of interest, or whether those conflicts could be threatening to national security. Speaking of which, isn’t it curious that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and United Arab Emirates, all places where Trump does business, are not on that list of nations that we’ve deemed scary? I’m not advocating that it should be expanded, I think it’s very existence is abhorrent. I’m saying that the list was created for a purpose other than the safety of the American people.

Jimmy Carter put his peanut farm and warehouse in a blind trust (no, that’s not just an Onion article, it really happened) to avoid the appearance that he could sway agricultural policy to his own profit. We can do better. We must. Demand transparency from Trump. Here’s how to do that, and a lot of other things, this week.

Monday: Today you need to call your senators, there are only two, and urge them both to vote against Betsy DeVos when she comes before the Senate on Tuesday, Jan. 31. She will be a disaster for public education in the U.S. and from a completely non-partisan perspective, she’s absolutely not qualified for the job, which was more than evident in her confirmation hearing. Her conflicts of interest are many and her skills are few. Also call Lamar Alexander, the Senate chair of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions  at 202-224-4944, even if you don’t live in Tennessee. The Republicans seemed genuinely spooked by Trump’s stance on immigration and the strong reaction against it, and we have to move on that. If you don’t have a Republican senator of your own to call, ask friends and relatives in other states how you can help them call–maybe you write them a script or talk about a message and call on their behalf, if they have to work or have other obligations. Wash, rinse and repeat with Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General nominee who is up for a vote on Tuesday. See why I feel crazy trying to write about one thing?

Tuesday: Today is the last day to sign up for the Affordable Care Act for 2017, unless you have a life change like moving, switching jobs, or getting married or divorced. Even if you have insurance, post this link to the Healthcare.gov site all over your social media–Trump’s team pulled ads telling the public about the deadline, ads the American public already paid for, last week, well ahead of the deadline.

Wednesday: Let’s talk about those tax returns today. Sign this official White House petition, it won’t take but a second and it carries a little more weight than your average online petition. If you’re feeling a bit mischievous, there’s been a suggestion circulating online that in lieu of calling the White House comments line, which is currently closed, you call any one of Trump’s properties and leave your complaint there. I would suggest starting with Mar-a-Lago. Call 561-832-2600 and let it be known that you are calling what the President himself referred to as the “winter White House” and you want him to release his tax returns. Yes, the residence is technically different than the golf club, but how can we even know, really? And that’s the point.

If this is too Abbie Hoffman for you, though, part of the lure is to draw Trump out and see if he’ll tweet about people calling his businesses, formally proving that the “blind trust” is garbage, then contact the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, 202-225-5074, and let them know that until he releases his tax returns, you don’t believe that we have any way of knowing whether Trump has conflicts of interest and how significant they may be. You can also call the Office of Government Ethics, 202-482-9300, a non-partisan organization that is supposed to address conflicts of interest in the executive branch, and tell them you don’t believe the President has been properly vetted and ask them what they are doing about it. 

Thursday: More tax fun. I want to give a shout out to my friend Debbie Baer who suggested this action. The Salt Lake City Tribune recently conducted a poll asking Utahns whether or not they still cared about the tax returns and Trump’s conflicts of interest. Turns out, they did. Send your local paper or online news outlet of choice an email and ask them to find out whether people in your area still care. Email as many editors and reporters directly as you can. And make some more calls.

Friday: Delete your Uber account if you haven’t already. Do it even if you never use Uber anymore, and don’t just delete the app on your phone, delete your entire account. The tech world has been comfortable being amoral for a long time now and we need to send consumer facing companies like Uber, who make the vast majority of their dollars inside the urban elite bubble, a message. Maybe Lyft donating to the ACLU is just smart marketing, but it’s behavior to encourage in an industry that catapults mainly white dudes into the one percent so they can luxury bunkers and survivalist gear.

Saturday: If you are on Twitter follow everyone on this list of unofficial, totally badass national parks and science agencies gone rogue. There’s some fun to be had here for sure. Or, read a book, for pleasure. Consider it a quiet act of opposition against the proud non-reader-in-chief.

Sunday: Find your local Indivisible group and join–you can search by zip code here. And read my next column to plan another week of #action.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required




Email Format


One Comment