Dana Chen ‘20
On the heels of his inauguration, President Trump issued an executive order barring citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East from entering the United States and temporarily suspending the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Remaining true to his campaign promises, Trump cited potential foreign terrorist entry as justification for imposing such stringent restrictions.
The order was met with national backlash regarding its ambiguity and constitutionality resulting in protests at numerous airports throughout the country. Though a federal judge in Seattle has since issued a ruling temporarily blocking the order, the future of many visa holders and refugees remains uncertain. The vetting process for refugee resettlement in the U.S. can last up to two years, and the Department of Justice has made clear that it intends to challenge the ruling.
Trump’s executive order comes after years of growing anxiety about terrorist attacks.
The order notes that lenient visa screening processes led to the entry of the September 11th attackers. However, the ban does not include the attackers’ countries of origin. The omitting of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey calls into question Trump’s business ties to those countries. It is more likely, however, that they were left out due to their geopolitical power – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are strongly united, resource-rich Gulf states, and Turkey is a NATO ally.
What the seven countries included under the travel ban have in common are their majority-Muslim populations. Though Trump asserts that his intentions are to prevent terrorists from entering the U.S., the language used in the order is subtly discriminatory towards Muslims. It states that refugees facing religious discrimination in their home countries will be prioritized for resettlement in the U.S. Since the countries under the ban are all predominantly Muslim, it is clear that this section of the order refers to Christians.
Prioritizing refugees of a specific religion is not only in contention with the Immigration and Naturalization Act but poses a great threat to U.S. national security. During the 2016 presidential election, Trump’s remarks calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country aroused worries among counterterrorism experts. Rhetoric that makes generalizations about particular groups of people can easily be capitalized on to spread a certain ideology. In this case, anti-Muslim rhetoric has the potential to be exploited by terrorist groups in order to indoctrinate new members. Giving such rhetoric the force of law can cause especially dire consequences. ISIS leaders could use this rhetoric to promote anti-American sentiments, ultimately creating more of the terrorists that Trump wants to keep out. Though he may argue that strict enforcement of immigration laws would prevent any such terrorists from entering the country, ISIS’s use of social media as a platform for recruitment extends its radicalization efforts beyond political borders.
Anti-American sentiment is not the only problem Trump’s executive order presents. It also creates a dilemma of sorts for government bureaucrats whose jobs are to carry out the order. Some have taken on the job without hesitation, but many others have expressed difficulty enforcing an executive order that they interpret to be unconstitutional. Since the order was issued, numerous State Department employees have expressed serious concerns about its constitutionality and alignment with American values. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded to this concern, saying that they “should either get with the program or…go.” Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates also instructed the Justice Department not to defend the order, and was subsequently fired. The Executive’s offhand dismissal of government officials who have legitimate concerns about one of the government’s policies is particularly concerning, as it shows a distrust of bureaucrats – ultimately creating a breeding ground for consolidated executive power.
Terrorism may be a serious threat, but sealing borders shut is not an effective solution. It is in the best interests of U.S. national security to foster diplomacy over fear and take into account the professional opinions of those outside of Trump’s inner circle.