(JTA) — Hundreds of American Jews with roots in the former Soviet Union signed a petition protesting President Donald Trump’s plan to block the arrival of refugees from some Muslim countries to the United States.
The online petition was published Thursday following reports that Trump was planning to issue executive orders temporarily barring U.S. admission of asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
“We, the undersigned Soviet Jewish refugees, write to express our support for the United States’ refugee resettlement program and our opposition to President Trump’s draft Executive Orders that would close America’s doors to vulnerable refugees desperately seeking our protection,” states the petition, which has received more than 400 signatures.
Most of the signatories indicated that they left the former Soviet Union after 1989, when Communist authorities, faced with the disintegration of their country, no longer jailed dissidents and significantly loosened restrictions on movement, free speech and religious worship. The United Nations definition for all refugees except Palestinian refugees is “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence.”
In the petition, the co-signatories wrote: “The United States must not turn our backs on the human beings fleeing violence and persecution like our families did when we left the former Soviet Union, nor abandon our highest national values and the demands of basic decency.”
Jewish tradition, they added, “teaches us that our own experience as foreigners, immigrants and refugees must compel us to create a compassionate society where the rights of migrants are protected.”
Among the co-signatories is Masha Gessen, a well-known Russian-American journalist and author who has spoken critically of Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Last year, the United States gave asylum to nearly 85,000 refugees, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center. Of those, 38,901 self-identified as Muslims. It was the highest number of Muslim refugees in any year since data on self-reported religious affiliations first became publicly available in 2002.
During an interview Thursday with Fox News, Trump defended his intention to issue executive orders suspending in part the refugee program.
“Right now, the FBI has over 1,000 [terrorism] investigations going on … and these are people that we let in. We don’t need this,” the president said. “Some people have come in with evil intentions. Most haven’t, I guess, but we can’t take chances.
“We’ve taken in tens of thousands of people. We know nothing about them. They can say they vetted them. They didn’t vet them, they have no papers. How can you vet somebody when you don’t know anything about them and they have no papers?”