Being Right: Several Steps Too Far

This week for what is usually a diametric political column, Eli Cousin and I have chosen to present what we hope will be nuanced views leading to the same conclusion: President Trump’s recent executive order concerning immigration is wrong. This is an opinion so strong and of such importance to both of us, that we have chosen to bend the status quo in presenting it. We hope you will find it as salient as we do.  

On Friday, President Donald Trump made good on one of his most incendiary campaign promises and issued an executive order halting all immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days and for all refugees for 120 days. Syrian immigration was halted indefinitely. In doing so, the Trump team cited precedents of 9/11, the Iranian hostage crisis and even World War II, which was not exactly a shining moment in U.S. immigration history. Trump’s decision was cruel, reckless, damning to the U.S.’s reputation abroad and thrown together with the haste and sloppiness of a student racing to meet a deadline. This order uses far too broad a brush in addressing immigration and the threat of terror. As conservatives like Senator John McCain and Senator Ben Sasse have pointed out, it is very likely that Trump’s sweeping actions will represent a boon to the careers of radical jihadist recruiters as the arguments presenting the West’s aversion to Islam will unfortunately become stronger. Not only that, but the stipulation halting immigration of refugees applies to all refugees. The idea of, say, political victims from Nepal or Taiwan being turned away in some effort to address terror based thousands of miles away from them is as gut-wrenching as it is frustrating.

It is true that there is executive precedent for temporarily halting immigration from certain countries — Obama did it in 2011 in response to the war in Iraq, and Carter did it in 1980 during the Iranian hostage crisis. Trump team members may soon use the abstract “War on Terror” as a justification, but as far as I’m concerned this is only a loosely cogent argument in regards to state sponsors of terror (only three of the countries singled out by the law). Even then it doesn’t hold much water given the intangible and ill-defined nature of a “war on terror.” Further, the irony of citing 9/11 was apparently lost on Trump, being that 15 of the 19 perpetrators of the attack were citizens of Saudi Arabia — a nation conspicuously absent from the list of blocked countries.      

Perhaps the most senseless element of Trump’s executive order is its application to green card holders — under the order, green card holders will be treated like other immigrants from their regions of the world and thus are barred from entry into the United States if they do not meet nebulous “vetting criteria.” Green card holders have been vetted extensively by the State Department, pay taxes, are expected to take up residence in the States and are told “welcome home” by customs officials. Essentially, the only things they cannot do are vote and run for most public offices. Trump’s orders will mean that such pseudo-citizens will be detained, held indefinitely and possibly sent back to their countries of origin. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already filed a slew of lawsuits concerning the constitutionality of these measures. You can bet that the undeserved suffering of green card holders across the world will be thoroughly documented in the coming weeks.

Diversity and inclusion are part of what make the United States so strong. Victories for immigration are victories for the nation as a whole, yet it is true we must be certain that the values of immigrants can mesh with American values; after all, the visa application form still asks if applicants identify with Nazi ideology. Nevertheless, an all-out ban of so many countries and individuals is counterproductive and antithetical to those same American values. It also means that we will be cruelly turning away many of the people who need our asylum the most. Changes in immigration policies may be warranted and should certainly be debated, but broad unilateral action does no good. I hope that the compassion of border agents and customs officials is as legitimate as I suspect it is, and that the exceptions and “discretionary action” outlined by the executive order are liberally applied to allow for immigration as it should be.