Muslim Americans have every reason to worry about the Trump presidency

Trump’s campaign contributed to rise in hate crimes against Muslim Americans and there is no guarantee those will abate.
Published January 21, 2017

Donald Trump, who mocked a disabled reporter, said he would ban Muslims from entering the United States, referred to Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, and made countless sexist statements, is now the 45th President of the United States.

Where do Muslim Americans go from here and what can we expect?

Some people have implored the American public to give Trump a chance and adopt a wait-and-see approach.

Others have said that he would not be able to fulfill some of the most controversial campaign promises as the reality of being president would force him into moderation.

That is theoretically possible. However, there are already indications of the directions in which his presidency is likely headed, especially when it comes to Muslim Americans.

Trump’s campaign contributed to a sharp rise in hate crimes against Muslim Americans. In fact, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that hate crimes had risen about 6% over 2015, with the greatest surge being against Muslim Americans.

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According to the New York Times, “There were 257 reports of assaults, attacks on mosques and other hate crimes against Muslims last year, a jump of about 67 percent over 2014. It was the highest total since 2001, when more than 480 attacks occurred in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.”

In the days following the election, there was an even greater surge in hate crimes.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that there had been “867 bias-related incidents in the 10 days following the presidential election.”

On November 9, a day after the election, there were 202 reported incidents.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the motivation behind 280 of the 867 incidents was anti-immigrant sentiment – and for 49 of the 867, incidents the motivation was specifically anti-Muslim sentiment.

Trump’s response to this increase in hate crimes has been weak. When asked about this issue on 60 Minutes on November 13, 2016, he offered a meager, “Stop it.”

In Trump’s America, Muslim Americans not only have to fear violence and harassment from private individuals and groups, but also from the policies that Trump has outlined. Concerns are also circulating around statements from people he has nominated for Cabinet positions.

Trump has proposed the possibility of a ban on Muslims entering the United States, as well as increased vetting of Muslim Americans that would include 'ideology tests', a subject I also discussed in my previous blog, “I am a Pakistani-American and Trump’s rise threatens me.”

Another issue of concern for Muslim Americans is the possibility of a database or registry that would track Muslims.

In November 2015, Trump said he “would certainly implement” a database that would track Muslims.

The same month, on his appearance on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, he said he would not rule out a registry for Muslims, stating that, “We want to go with databases.”

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However, it was reported as recently as December 2016 that the communications director of Trump’s transition team said that Trump “has never advocated for any registry or system that tracks individuals based on their religion.”

A source close to the incoming administration has told CNN that Trump is considering a database, similar to the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), a program that was enacted shortly after September 11, 2001.

It required non-citizens entering the United States to register and to regularly check in with immigration officials. NSEERS disproportionately affected Arab and Muslim Americans by requiring all males 16 and above from 24 majority-Muslim countries and North Korea to register.

While the program was suspended in 2011 and officially ended in December 2016 by the Obama administration, Muslim Americans have already been concerned by Trump’s comments regarding extreme vetting of immigrants based on their country of origin.

As seen in the NSEERS example, a programme that focuses on country of origin rather than a religious group can still have disproportionate consequences for one particular religious group.

In addition, the contradictory and confusing nature of comments made by Trump and sources close to his transition team have done little to allay the concerns of Muslim Americans about a similar registry during his presidency.

Several nominees selected by Trump for Cabinet positions have also expressed different and confusing positions on the possibility of a Muslim registry.

While Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, stated in his confirmation hearings that he would not support a Muslim registry, he also said that Trump’s proposed policies on vetting immigrants focused on vetting them on the basis of country of origin, and that in certain circumstances he would allow religion to be considered as a factor when vetting immigrants.

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Similarly, John Kelly, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security, said that he would not favour a registry that was solely based on religion.

When Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, was asked about a potential Muslim registry, his response was that he “would need to have a lot more information around how such an approach would even be constructed.” He did not explicitly rule out the possibility of a Muslim registry.

Although Trump and his Cabinet nominees have not officially called for a Muslim registry, this does little to comfort Muslim Americans who have consistently heard Islamophobic rhetoric throughout Trump’s campaign.

Additionally, focusing on the country of origin rather than religion as a way to classify people does not address the possibility (and the reality, such as in the NSEERS experience) that country of origin-based vetting or registration may be an underhanded way to disproportionately target adherents of a particular religion.

There is no guarantee that the human rights of Muslim Americans will be adequately protected in Donald Trump’s America.

This is a dangerous reality not just for Muslim Americans, but also for members of other minority groups who may see protection of their rights falter.

While it remains to be seen what actions Trump will take during his presidency, it is safe to say that Muslim Americans have many reasons to worry about what may happen in the coming months and years.

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