(By Helen Raleigh, Centennial Institute Fellow) On January 27th, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” which was quickly condemned by many mainstream media members, human rights and immigration advocacy groups. The headlines were one-sided and very scary, such as “Trump Bars Refugees and Citizens of 7 Muslim Countries” (The New York Times) and “Trump’s immigration ban sends shockwaves“(CNN.com). Upon reviewing the entirety of the executive order, I conclude that the executive order has some good ideas as well as areas of concerns.
The main objective of this order is to develop a vigilant visa-issuing process because it’s one of the first lines of defense to keep anyone who intends to harm our nation and our people out. Unfortunately, this line of defense has been weakened over the years.
Remember the San Bernardino shooting? One of the shooters, Tashfeen Malik, came to the U.S. originally on a K-1 fiancée visa. She didn’t encrypt her radical thoughts and anti-American ideas on Facebook prior to her visa application; they were posted for anyone to read. But our immigration officials were prevented from reviewing her easily accessible social media postings due to an internal secret policy that prohibits immigration officials from reviewing foreign visa applicants’ social media.
Trump’s executive order sought to correct such past mistakes by demanding “uniform screening standards and procedures for all immigration programs.” It spells out what kind of applicants should be kept out of the U.S., i.e. “those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law… those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.” I would argue that this is a set of good criteria. The great American experiment can only continue to be successful if newcomers embrace the founding principles and rule of law of this nation. Our founders, while almost unanimously taking a very pro-immigration stand, also emphasized the importance of immigrants abiding by “our customs, measures and laws” (George Washington) because “the safety of a republic depends essentially on the energy of the common national sentiment” (Alexander Hamilton).
The executive order also addressed the visa-overstay issue. An estimated 40%-60% of illegal immigrants came to the U.S. on legal non-immigration visas and then stayed after those visas expired. Unfortunately, visa overstays have never been an enforcement priority of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under any previous administration. Trump sought to correct that by demanding that the DHS implement “a biometric entry-exit tracking system for all travelers to the United States.” This is a step in the right direction.
The order also sought to grant State and local jurisdictions “a role in the process of determining the placement or settlement” because they have borne a great deal of the cost to settle new immigrants, especially refugees.
Unfortunately, critics ignored these good policy and chose to present the order as an anti-Muslim measure because seven predominately Muslim countries (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen) are reported as the target for the temporary visa suspension. But Trump didn’t identity these countries in his executive order, he merely followed an existing U.S. law established under President Obama. In addition, none of these seven counties are in the top 10 most populous Muslim countries in the World. If Trump truly intended to “ban Muslims” to the U.S., he would apply temporary visa ban to a very different list of countries.
While the order clearly sought to “prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution,” it intentionally leaves the religious minorities undefined so anyone, including a Muslim can apply. The argument that the order favors Christians over other religious groups has no basis either because a quick word search of the word “Christian” of the published text yields nothing
However, I’m concerned the halting of processing refugees from Syria with no target end date is overly harsh. There’s no evidence that in the U.S., Syrian refugees pose any particular security threat greater than refugees from any other countries. It’s true that some ISIS terrorists have infiltrated among Syrian refugees and caused harm in Europe, but that’s mainly caused by Europe’s open border policy with very limited vetting process. That’s not the case in the U.S. Even under the Obama administration, the U.S. only accepted Syrian refugees who were referred by the U.N. refugee agency and who have gone through an extensive security check. Yes, we can always improve upon our screening process,but it’s not fair to single out Syrian refugees.
What Trump should have done is to emphasize that the Syrian war has resulted in over 10 million refugees. It’s impossible to transfer all of them to U.S. or Europe. The only viable solution is to create safe zones.
The executive order ran into some implementation issues over the weekend. This shows that immigration is too complex an issue to be addressed through executive orders. A stroke of the pen can impact millions of people’s lives. A much better approach for Trump is to work with the U.S. Congress to come up with a well-thought-out immigration reform bill.
Helen Raleigh is an author and fellow on immigration policy at the Centennial Institute.