Hira Humayun ‘17
The Sophian spoke with Smith professor and chair of the government department, Greg White, to discuss his view on the implications of Trump’s immigration ban. Professor White’s research focuses on Moroccan politics, global environmental politics, international relations, and political economy and migration/refugee politics.
Has any ban like this taken place in the world in recent history and, if so, what were the consequences?
To the best of my knowledge, no. Not of this scope. And not by a major power that has often espoused and supported important international norms about the rule of law, equal protection before the law, freedom of religion, etc.
What are the implications of this ban for foreign relations with Middle Eastern countries/allies?
Such a ban undoubtedly complicates foreign policy toward countries in the Middle East and North Africa and beyond. Most fundamentally, it casts the U.S. as hostile to Islam writ large, rather than opposed specifically to Daesh/ISIS and others who use Islam to justify acts of violent terrorism and horrible human rights practices. For the countries not on the list, this is a profound change in perception and behavior.
For instance, in terms of U.S. strategic interests, Morocco has been a longstanding, loyal ally. This is complicated, because such strategic interests are not always noble. (For example, Morocco was cited as one of the countries that hosted a CIA black site during the Bush-Cheney Administration.) Nevertheless, future diplomatic and strategic efforts between Washington and Rabat will be challenged as popular sentiment in Morocco deepens against the United States. On a more cultural/educational level, Moroccan academics are cancelling plans to travel to the US for academic conferences this year, in opposition to the ban and because of anxieties about their own safety. The curtailing of such scholarly and cultural exchanges is simply tragic and does damage that will be hard to repair.
Are there any potential economic benefits to letting refugees in?
Yes, there are compelling arguments that resettled refugees are often young or middle-aged people who are hardworking and, in many instances, possess valuable professional skills. For the aging populations that are common in advanced-industrialized countries, resettled populations can be a valuable source of labor – taxable labor – for economic growth and for supporting pensions. This is the argument that Angela Merkel has made in Germany.
Moreover, in the aftermath of the announcement of the ban, dozens of companies (including Google, Apple and Facebook) have filed court briefs arguing that the ban undermines the U.S.’s competitiveness. It would inhibit U.S. companies’ ability to recruit the best talent. Also, capital and investment will likely flow out of and away from a “self-isolating,” protectionist U.S. economy.
What were the strengths and weaknesses of the immigration process for people from the now-banned countries under the Obama administration?
As is well documented, people from the countries that are on President Trump’s banned list were already subjected to extensive vetting and screening. Moreover, the deadly attacks that have occurred in the United States in recent years have not been carried out by people from the seven countries; they were carried out by people from other countries – e.g., Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and Lebanon. Several were born in the U.S.
By way of anecdote, I spoke by phone last week with a Sudanese colleague and friend who hoped to travel to the U.S. this summer, to participate in Smith’s Executive Education program. She is a remarkable woman, who participated in the Women in Public Service Program co-hosted by Smith in 2014. A psychologist who does extraordinary public health outreach work with elderly women in rural areas of Sudan and other countries, she was beginning the process in Khartoum of getting a visa to visit the U.S. She was dumbfounded and devastated about the ban when we spoke on the phone.
With judges ruling against Trump’s decision, and Trump’s refusal so far to abide by them, do you foresee a potential impeachment?
Impeachment of the president is not on the immediate horizon to the best of my knowledge. But the president’s tweets and statements undermining the judiciary and the U.S. Constitution are deeply concerning. To blame a judge fulfilling his or her constitutional role for any future terrorist attack? That’s appalling and, in many ways, un-American. President Trump has to respect the rule of law and the Constitution. He needs to desist in his denunciation of the free press.
Honestly, believe it or not, I am cautiously optimistic that the system of checks and balances devised by Madison and other framers can “trump Trump.” For example, courts are going to be crucial sites of opposition. So are Attorneys General in the states. One hopes that Congress – even one controlled by the president’s party – will pass laws and hold the president accountable. A commission to investigate Russian intervention in the U.S. election, a law requiring the president to release his tax returns, ethics commissions to hold cabinet officials (e.g., Tom Price, Steve Mnuchin, and Betsy DeVos to name a few) and the president accountable for their corrupt practices – these are steps that principled conservatives should support.
What can students do to help?
Students are already “doing it.” They’re being students – i.e., seeking to understand these complicated times in which we live. And, moreover, they are working to participate at all levels (local, national and international) in civil society efforts to hold the president accountable for his actions. It’s only just begun. And it’s going to be a long process. But we have to avoid cynicism and snark and, instead, hold crucial ethical and legal norms high.