The rationale offered by the White House for Trump’s Executive Order banning refugees (as well as other people with legal entry papers) is that it is necessary to halt people coming from seven mostly muslim countries until the Department of Homeland Security can establish an “extreme vetting” process to ensure that “bad guys” are not getting in.
Quite apart from questions of the legality and constitutionality of his Order, I want to challenge the notion that this has anything to do with the safety and security of the United States. Simply put, it doesn’t. Here’s why:
CAVEAT: For simplicity, I’m going to limit my comments to the mostly women and children fleeing their countries of origin and seeking asylum in the United States. Even with this limitation, it is a longish post.
1. WHO DOES THE EXECUTIVE ORDER BAN?
The ban halts the entry of refugees from seven countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
2. WHY THESE SEVEN COUNTRIES?
It turns out that the White House had no idea exactly what countries they should include in the ban, and settled on seven countries that Congress and the Obama administration had previously identified as countries deserve special vigilance. This special vigilance referred to things like a Syrian family requesting a visa to vacation in America. Those cases are now being examined more carefully than they were before. However, it had nothing to do with refugees, who were already undergoing “extreme vetting.”
Trump’s Executive Order also invoked the 9-11 terrorist attack and the 2015 shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California, to justify the President’s order. The problem with this is that there have never been any terrorist attacks in the United States perpetrated by anyone from any of the seven countries on the list. Certainly the 9-11 and San Bernardino events would not have been stopped by banning refugees from these seven countries.
There are some countries that HAVE sent terrorists to our country, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for example. For some reason, none of these countries made it on to the list. Some people have wondered about this. Donald Trump is known to have significant business concerns in Saudi Arabia and Egypt and has none, as far as we know, in the seven countries included in the ban. The White House denies that those business concerns had any influence on the decision to leave those two countries off the banned list. But how do we know that? Do we just take the President’s word for it? Given the fact that the President has a truth-telling record of around 20%, a lot of people are justifiably skeptical.
So why these seven countries? Since the Executive Order offers no logical explanation, we are left guessing. My guess is that the Trump administration was too undisciplined and in too much in a rush to take the tie to come up with a list that makes good sense from a national security point of view. So they grabbed Obama’s list, which was intended for something entirely different, and repurposed it for their own ends. That’s what happens when you have amateurs running the place. Sad.
3. HOW DOES THIS BAN MAKE US SAFER?
At this point, we have to wonder exactly how the ban for these seven countries is supposed to make our nation safer? Refugees from these (and all) countries go through an “extreme vetting” process before they can get on a plane to come to the US. The process is thorough and takes anywhere from 18 months to 2 years.
Given that there are no cases of terrorist attacks on US soil perpetrated by anyone from any of these seven countries, and given that they are extremely well vetted before they can get on a plane for America and therefore less of a threat than your next door neighbor, one has to wonder how the ban makes us safer? Would it not have made more sense to skip these people who are fleeing terrorism and ban people from countries we know have sent terrorists our way?
At the end of the day, there is no evidence (none, zero, nada, zip) that banning refugees from these seven countries will make America safer. However, it might make us LESS safe.
4. HOW DOES THIS BAN MAKE US LESS SAFE?
A number of politicians, commentators and career intelligence officials have pointed out that the ban carries some risks for us. The military and intelligence services have expressed concern that alienating these countries will reduce our ability to gain much needed intelligence about our enemies, specifically ISIS. It also creates considerable ill will in the Middle East in general. We are alienating potential allies in our on-going fight against muslim fundamentalist extremists. We are also alienating our allies outside of the region, who are aghast at our cold heartedness and the foolishness of Trump’s order.
5. WHAT ABOUT EXTREME VETTING?
The main rationale for the ban is to give the Department of Homeland Security time to enhance our current refugee vetting system with something called “extreme vetting.” It has never been clear what exactly that means. The only idea I have heard voiced by Trump echoes the influence of Mark Krikorian, who suggests we need to add ideological testing to the vetting process. Here he is in an interview with NPR.
“It means a kind of ideological screening to keep out people who hate a free society even if they are not violent,” says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank that supports tighter controls on immigration. Krikorian met with Trump during the campaign and backs the president’s executive order as a “corrective” to the vetting system in place during the Obama years.
President Trump signed an executive order suspending the State Department’s refugee assistance program for 120 days until “extreme” vetting can be put in place.
In an interview with NPR, Krikorian said he backs an ideological test that poses questions for refugees in the vetting process including, in his words, “Do you think it’s okay to kill apostates? Do you think it’s okay to throw gays off of buildings? Or if Islam’s Prophet Muhammad is insulted, there should be a punishment?”
If a refugee says yes to any of these questions, says Krikorian, “Then we don’t want you here.”
Sound’s good. But might this work in practice? Suppose you are refugee from one of the banned countries and are asked in an interview, “Do you think it’s okay to kill apostates?” If you are a terrorist, you are not going to say, “Yes. Absolutely.” You’re going to say, “No. That’s not my brand of Islam.”
So maybe “extreme vetting” means digging into their past to see if they have any connections with terrorism or terrorist groups who … oops, we already do that. It’s part of our current vetting process.
If Trump has some ideas for making our refugee vetting process better, then by all means, bring it on. But we already have an excellent vetting process, honed over a decade of experience, and I have not heard any suggestions from Trump that would actually make it better.
6. THEN WHAT IS TRUMP’S EXECUTIVE ORDER REALLY ABOUT?
It’s about Trump keeping a promise he made to his base during the campaign that he would keep the muslims out of the country. He has tried to pretty it up in the language of national security, but he and his administration know very well that it’s not going to make us safer. If anything, it will make us less safe. Even Rudy Guilianno, one of Trump’s trusted advisors, says that Trump came to him and asked him how he could implement a muslim ban without calling it a muslim ban. Guilianno says he advised Trump not to try it.
This is why many people have concluded that the EO is, in fact, an anti-muslim action by our President. That’s why the federal courts have put it on hold; it violates our Constitutional. But that’s another post.