Just one week after assuming the office of the American presidency, Donald Trump signed his most controversial executive order to date. The order seeks to temporarily suspend immigration from seven countries in the Middle East and Africa, while permanently suspending the Syrian refugee program. This in itself would have been a sudden departure from standard American immigration policy, but the complete travel ban of anyone with citizenship in these countries makes the move unprecedented in modern American history. In the weeks since, there have been numerous claims about what the order does and does not do, and whether or not it is even constitutional. This week, we attempt to cut through the "alternative facts" to explain the truth about the Trump travel ban.
So what is this travel ban? It is a directive to all government agencies involved with travel and immigration that stops all refugee processing and unauthorized travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. These are Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and Libya. The travel ban appears to apply to any person with citizenship in one of these countries (even dual citizens of nations like Britain or Australia, though anyone with American citizenship was not banned). This included "legal permanent residents" (green card holders) and anyone with temporary travel visas to the United States from these countries. A lot of people have tried to compare this order to former president Obama's actions on Iraqi immigration in 2011. This is when Obama temporarily halted the processing of NEW refugee applications from Iraq to determine how potential terrorists were attempting to infiltrate the system. Trump's order would suspend all EXISTING applications and goes much further by banning all travelers of these nationalities, regardless of circumstance.
It's important here to understand the process of Executive Orders. Executive orders are basically a way for the president to provide official direction about how he or she will enforce (or not enforce) existing laws. Since Congress makes laws and the Executive enforces them, this does not give the president the power to dictate new laws. However, the president can tell the government's various departments and agencies how to enforce a law (since most departments and agencies ultimately answer to the president). Just like Obama chose not to enforce standing immigration law during his decision not to deport families of illegal immigrants, Trump has decided to strictly enforce immigration limits.
However, the judicial system can step in to overrule or limit an executive order if it is deemed unconstitutional (which is what's currently being debated in federal court). In this case the majority of the judicial dissent is aimed at the travel ban, not limitations on refugee processing. Several judges have ruled that the ban places an "undue burden" on numerous families, organizations, and companies throughout the United States, and that it amounts to a "Muslim ban" which would violate the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. The administration's case is that the seven nations in the order were listed as having a higher likelihood of promoting international terrorism by the Obama administration. This determination was used to determine the necessity of having travel visas from these countries, but was not intended to be used to justify a blanket travel ban. Given the divisive nature of this case, it is highly likely this will end up being appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. Though as of this writing, the ban is currently on hold until the case is fully decided.
How effective will the ban be? It might make some people feel safe, but it's not likely to prevent future terrorist attacks. This is because the majority of attacks in the United States have been committed by American citizens already living here. Despite what the administration will say, the United States already has one of the most extreme vetting processes in the world (it takes nearly two years for someone to get through, if ever). It seems that the seven countries in this order were picked because of an Obama administration report about nations with the highest numbers of potential terrorists (nearly all of whom are targeting people in their own countries anyway). Perhaps it makes some sense to evaluate the refugee process for these nations, but a complete travel ban does far more harm than good.
What are the downsides? Whether you agree with the order or not, it is clear that this was carelessly implemented with no initial regard for permanent residents or important travelers. The travel ban has temporarily excluded anyone who had any nationality from the seven countries. This includes students, doctors, corporate employees, medical tourists, about 60,000 in all according to the State department. A record number of State department employees have expressed their concern via the official "dissent channel" and many large American companies have weighed in on the legal case by citing the extreme hardship places on some of their employees from the nations included in the ban. Finally, it's clear that this move will damage America's image and perpetuate the ISIS narrative of America being at war with Islam. The United States relies on foreign governments and intelligence agencies for support and information, and this ban places some of that in jeopardy. It's an ill-conceived, reactionary measure that will do almost nothing to address the underlying causes of terrorism and extremism in America. As we have stated numerous times, this isn't a denial that mainstream Islam has some serious problems with radicalization. Just that the current proposed measures will not address these problems.
Regarding refugee admissions, it is unfortunate that so many suffering people will be excluded form the American dream, but its important to remember that nearly half of the country supports the measure according to many polls. These individuals aren't all racists (though some might be to a degree), they are just scared. Scared of terrorist attacks and scared that the continued influx of refugees will eventually change the culture of the country into something they do not understand. These feelings are understandable, and left-leaning individuals ought to reach out and acknowledge this. It doesn't necessarily mean condoning this executive order or even accepting it, but it does mean understanding that facts and figures about terror attacks won't work here.
To bridge the divide, perhaps we can look to our neighbor to the north. Canada's refugee program is much less controversial. This may be due in part to its "points" system, which places far less emphasis on the nationality of potential immigrants and far more on the specific skills they could bring into the country. It may not be the idealistic "give me your poor, your tired, your downtrodden" as traditional liberalism demands these days, but reforms that allow America's white middle class to FEEL safer while also maintaining America's tradition of welcoming new people may help end the current impasse regarding immigration. It's time to move beyond the dichotomy of "don't let them in" or "let them all in" that our current immigration discourse has become. It's time to change the conversation entirely. Once that happens, we will be able to spend less time arguing over bans that don't work, and more time proposing real solutions to America's immigration and terrorism concerns.