News from the Week of January 7th

This Tuesday, President Trump signed an executive order directing the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs to ensure that military service members transitioning to civilian life have access to mental health services. Beginning March 9, recent veterans will receive extended coverage for at least one year following service.  

In other military news, retired Marine Colonel Scott Jensen is leading an organization that advocates for victims of sexual harassment. Founded in 2011, Protect Our Defenders is a non-profit organization devoted to stopping sexual assault in the military. The group presents new ways to confront online misogyny and harassment. Col. Jensen wil lead efforts to provide support to victims, address weaknesses in enforcement efforts, and push for policy change.

A study published this week in the journal Political Behavior suggests that President Trump’s Muslim ban may have had an unintended upside. The authors found that the national discourse around the ban prompted some respondents to shift their attitudes towards Muslims. Ultimately, many Americans who had previously supported or been neutral on the ban concluded that it is at odds with “American values.”

This week marked the 16th anniversary of the opening of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. To mark the date, Major General Michael Lehnert—the first commanding general of Guantanamo—released a statement calling on U.S. leaders to “recommit ourselves to fighting terrorism while upholding American ideals, as it is both a moral and national security imperative.” 

Thursday, during an Oval Office discussion on extending protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and several African countries, President Trump reportedly commented, “Why do we want all these people from 'sh*thole countries' coming here?" He then reportedly went on to say: “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out." Human Rights First’s President and CEO, Elissa Massimino, quickly responded,  reminding us that countless refugees have endured unspeakable violence, and that we need to stand firm to our commitment to protect the world’s most vulnerable. "President Trump’s reported comment about people from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries is disgusting and disgraceful.” Ms. Massimo stated. “That the President of the United States would talk this way about people who are fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries is shameful.”

Immigrant of the Week: While we typically select a “refugee of the week,” we could not help but include the story of Haitian immigrant Alix Idrache in this week’s roundup. Idrache emigrated to America in 2009, one year before an earthquake leveled much of Port-au-Prince. “My dad always said, ‘Education is the only gift I can always give you, because I don’t have any anything material to give,’” Idrache recalled. In May 2016, with tears rolling down his cheeks, Alix graduated from West Point. “Knowing that one day I will be a pilot is humbling beyond words,” Alix wrote on West Point’s Instagram page. “I could not help but be flooded with emotions knowing that I will be leading these men and women who are willing to give their all to preserve what we value as the American way of life. To me, that is the greatest honor."

We admire Alix’s patriotism, determination, and gratitude. His story serves as a reminder that we cannot afford to neglect our core national ideals – diversity, equality, and belief in the American dream.