January 03, 2017
by Warren L. Nelson
President Trump issued his long-awaited executive order on immigration last Friday, which immediately created chaos at many airports and set off anti-Trump demonstrations all across the country.
The tension and animosity, however, vastly exceeded the scale of the issue. The number of people denied entry to the United States over the weekend did not even reach 600. But the protests and vocal anger showed the intensity of support for immigration among Americans.
For decades, all the anger and emotion has been stirred on the anti-immigration side, with large numbers of people speaking with intense hostility about the need to curb immigration. Candidate Donald Trump had appealed to those raw emotions in his campaign.
Over the weekend, however, for the first time, people poured into the streets—or, rather, into the airports—to scream and shout in support of immigration, something unheard of before,
The country was deeply divided. A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken Monday and Tuesday showed 49 percent supporting Trump’s order and 41 percent opposing it, with 10 percent undecided.
Trump supporters generally saw a curb on Middle Eastern immigrants as necessary to keep out terrorists, while opponents saw the ban as barely disguised bigotry against Muslims that wasn’t even aimed at countries where terrorism flourishes. Historically, those wanting to curb immigration see it as taking jobs away from working Americans, while supporters of immigration see it as something that distinguishes the United States from Old World countries by making America more diverse and more cosmopolitan.
The executive order was little understood. It is a just temporary order meant to last a few months until a permanent policy can be adopted.
The order essentially does two things. First, it completely halts the US program for accepting refugees for 120 days. Then a new program with “extreme vetting,” to use the president’s words, is to be put into place to keep out terrorists. But the tightest vetting of immigrants is already done for refugees, who commonly wait more than a year to be cleared for admission—if they are ever cleared. Trump has never explained what he thinks can be done to vet refugees that isn’t being done now. The Cato Institute, a conservative think-tank, says that since the Refugee Act of 1980 created the current system of vetting refugees, no person accepted by the United States has ever been implicated in even a single major terrorist attack resulting in a fatality. As one wag said, “Trump wants to get the number down below zero.” Trump also cut the ceiling for refugees to be accepted this year by more than half, from 110,000 approved by President Obama to 55,000.
Second, the order bans entry into the United States of anyone from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. The ban on Syrian entries is indefinite. The ban on Iranians and the others is just for 90 days. There are 51 countries with a Muslim majority. Of the seven countries targeted, only Yemen is a major source of terrorists, however. The accompanying table shows one measure of terrorism—the number of people by nationality incarcerated at Guantanamo since 2002, when it was opened. Only three Iranians, or less than one-half of 1 percent of the total detained there, were Iranians. (The three were freed years ago.) Critics ridiculed Trump’s list for excluding such major sources of terrorists such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Others pointed out that the list excluded all of the Muslim-majority countries were The Trump Organization has investments
Very oddly, few criticized the list for penalizing all members of a group for the crimes of only a few members of a group. Opposition to such group punishments is supposed to be one of basics of Americanism. Police, for example, must have a rational suspicion before detaining anyone. When told that a six-foot black man has just robbed a store, the police cannot sweep up all tall blacks and take them in for questioning.
The 90-day ban on visas is to be succeeded by a new program. It might include those same countries or fewer or more. That remains to be determined. But the order says the United States will tell all foreign governments what information the United States requires to make judgments on issuing visas to their nationals. If a country refuses to provide all the information demanded, then the president will “prohibit the entry of foreign nationals” from those countries—no immigrant visas, no visas for lottery winners, no visas for grandmother to visited the grandkids, no student visas to study in the United States. No visas.
Based on past history, the chances that the Islamic Republic would cooperate with the United States is close to nil. Thus, the odds that the Trump Administration will issue visas to Iranians in the future approach zero.
The order allows for exceptions, and Washington has already said it will not block athletes coming for international events. It may exempt musicians and other entertainers at some point. (The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars, has publicly denounced the visa ban for keeping Iranian Asghar Farhadi, director of one of the five films nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, away from the Oscar ceremony.) American universities are in especially high dudgeon over the student visa ban, so Trump may decide before long to allow students in. A grandma lobby may pluck at the heart-strings of Americans and pressure for a grandma exception.
Who knows how many exceptions there may be. The original order barred all “aliens,” which includes green card holders. But an exception for green card holders—the first exception—was carved out in only 50 hours after Trump signed the exclusion order.
There is also the issue of Baha’is, Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians who wish to leave Iran. The original draft executive order that was leaked to the press last week said the visa ban did not apply to minority faiths in any of the seven countries. But if the ban only applied to members of the majority faith in each of those countries, then the visa ban would have fallen exclusively on Muslims.
Since Trump had already pledged that he would not issue a Muslim-only ban, the minority-faith exception was dropped. That has not made minority-faith groups in the United States happy. Trump even told a Christian newspaper that interviewed him that he would make it a priority to bring in Christians from those countries. If exceptions are next carved out for minority faiths, the ban will soon fall exclusively on Muslims.
Many analysts fear the Trump order does not protect Americans from terrorism, but the opposite. They are concerned that Muslim radicals will now make it a higher priority to attack Americans.
Trump’s order noted that the visa process was tightened after 9/11, but said, “These measures did not stop attacks by foreign nationals who were admitted to the United States.” That is true. But it also true that there have been very few attacks by foreign nationals since 9/11. In fact, the chances of an American being struck by lightning are much higher than the chances of being struck by a terrorist. The administration has made a top priority of solving a problem that is statistically insignificant—though not insignificant in terms of media coverage and public fears.
Shortly after the executive order was signed Friday, a flood of court challenges were filed. In the first 72 hours after the order was signed, judges in at least five states—California, Massachusetts, Virginia, Washington and New York—issued orders blocking parts of the order. The only issues in those cases were the detention at airports of people rejected for entry and/or the deportation of such people. In other words, the issue was really whether Trump could bar the entry of people who already had valid visas. The question of whether the order’s ban on issuing new visas is legal is left to later argument in the courts.
As for last weekend’s actions, an internal document prepared in the Department of Homeland Security and seen by Reuters said that between late Friday, when Trump signed the order, and early Monday 348 people with US visas were prevented from boarding US-bound flights at airports abroad, and more than 200 people who landed at airports in the United States were denied entry.