On January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump executed a promise from his presidential campaign: banning immigration from 7 Muslim-majority countries and suspending the admission of refugees. The executive order temporarily suspends all refugee admissions to the US for 120 days and indefinitely suspends admission of refugees from Syria. This at a time when millions of displaced people from Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, and elsewhere flee war zones and oppressive regimes. Trump barred all entry to the US by natives of seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, and Somalia. The ban did not include countries with long-standing problems with terrorism, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt. While at first it was unclear whether green-card holders from the seven countries were prohibited from entry, the White House clarified that they are allowed entry under a waiver from the ban. The debate surrounding the executive order has been highly contentious and protested, with the focus centering around the the ban’s efficacy, constitutionality, morality, and political and strategic merit. Questions of efficacy concern whether the ban will help or hurt in the fight against terrorism. Constitutional questions surround whether the President has the authority to issue this type of executive order and whether the order violates due process religious rights. The sub-debate on morality asks whether the ban is fair and consistent with American values? And the final section on politics and strategy concerns whether the ban is a political win for the Trump administration and a strategically-valuable move for the United States more generally. The pro and con arguments and quotes are framed below.
James Carafano, vice president of foreign and defense studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation said in an interview with CNBC: “This was the administration trying to get ahead of what is an emergent threat that every terrorism expert in the world recognizes. And to make sure we can cut off the pipelines, so foreign fighters don’t come from those seven countries to the United States… I think their concern was there’s a terrorist flow coming. We want to stop it. Yeah some people might be inconvenienced. We can figure that out. If someone was killed in a terrorist attack in the United States because we weren’t on watch, that’s a more unforgivable sin.”
Venitta Ferguson of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, said to Time: “I couldn’t be more pleased with what he’s done. We’re in that kind of world where to ignore the possibility that even one person out of 10,000 has ill intentions is foolish.”
Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said on January 31st that the “temporary pause” in immigration from seven countries and the admittance of refugees allows officials to “assess the strengths and the weaknesses of our current system.”
“It’s a temporary ban that effects exactly seven countries, ones on which the Obama administration already placed travel limits as ‘countries of concern'”
DHS Secretary John Kelly said at a news conference “it is not – I repeat – not a ban on Muslims.”
Dotty Rhea, 68, a retiree from Savannah, Tennessee said to Time: “Nobody’s angry with them (immigrants), nobody hates them. We just need to protect ourselves.”
The true “efficacy” of Trump’s immigration ban will be difficult to determine because it is impossible to fully prove that lives were saved by denying entry to immigrants and refugees from the seven countries listed in Trump’s temporary ban.
“On net, Trump’s order actually increases the risk to national security far more than it might reduce it. Trump and his supporters are not the only ones who want to keep Syrian refugees out of the US. The leaders of ISIS feel exactly the same way. They want to prevent Muslims from fleeing to the West so as not to reduce the number of people living under ISIS rule, and also because they fear that refugees might be influenced by Western liberal values inimical to radical Islamism. Trump’s order plays into ISIS’ hands, both by keeping out refugees and by needlessly antagonizing Muslims around the world… Trump’s order also benefits terrorists because it keeps out Iraqis and Syrians who helped US forces, often risking their own lives in the process. If you were an Iraqi or Syrian considering helping the US, would you trust American promises of refuge after this order? I don’t think I would. “
“If the ban was aimed at stopping terrorism, it was oddly off target… Since 1990, of the 182 radical Islamic terrorists who plotted attacks in the United States or on inbound airplanes, just two entered the U.S. as refugees. Little wonder—since refugees are among the most carefully vetted immigrant groups, and the bulk of them are women and children.”
“The White House claims that the order is intended to protect the US against terrorism. But any such risk is extremely small already. The average American has only about a 1 in 51 million per year chance of being killed by a foreign terrorist of any kind, Muslim or non-Muslim, refugee or otherwise. That is far less than the odds of being killed by a lightning strike. The odds of being killed by a refugee terrorist are far lower still.”
The ban insults many of the countries the United States needs in its fight against terrorism, including the Iraqi government, which is contemplating expelling the United States’ remaining forces and advisers in the country.
The ban did not include Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, all of which were home countries for the 9/11 hijackers. In addition, many wonder how Pakistan could not be included on this list. This is not to argue that these countries should be included, but solely that the ban is not rationally tied to terrorism prevention.
“America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border. America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave. We will keep it free and keep it safe, as the media knows, but refuses to say… I have tremendous feeling for the people involved in this horrific humanitarian crisis in Syria. My first priority will always be to protect and serve our country, but as President I will find ways to help all those who are suffering.”
“This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order. We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days.”
“Nowhere is it written that the United States can never tap the brakes on immigration. For much of the political class and for an inflamed left, any new restriction is tantamount to melting down the Statue of Liberty. This is an ahistorical attitude that desperately needs a corrective… ‘America,’ the late political scientist Samuel Huntington wrote, ‘has been a nation of restricted and interrupted immigration as much as it has been a nation of immigration.’… In 1965, fewer than 300,000 immigrants were admitted to the United States. We have been at elevated levels for decades since then and now admit about 1 million a year. The proportion of the foreign-born population is set to hit a record in 2025. This means there is a lot of room to reduce immigration without shutting our doors entirely.”
Jim Buterbaugh, the head of custodial work and maintenance at a public school in the western Montana town of White Hall said to Time magazine: “We’re not the world’s Social Security office. We’re not here to take care of people. I understand that people need help, but there are other ways besides bringing them here.”
President Trump said in a Facebook post: “I have tremendous feeling for the people involved in this horrific humanitarian crisis in Syria. My first priority will always be to protect and serve our country, but as President I will find ways to help all those who are suffering.” One of those ways of helping those that are suffering includes creating “safe zones” in Syria. In general, by pursuing a more proactive and aggressive counter-terrorism strategy in the Middle East, Trump will secure the region and reduce the need for citizens of these countries to flee as refugees.
Helen Megido, a 43-year-old registered nurse in Federal Way, Washington said to CNN: “[If] you want to get here, you wait your chance. You wait your turn. If they want to get to America, 3 months, 6 months — it’s nothing. They can wait.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called it “cruelty”. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said there were “tears running down the cheeks of the Statue of Liberty”. Hillary Clinton, tweeted, “I stand with the people gathered across the country tonight defending our values & our Constitution. This is not who we are.”
The Statute of Liberty has enshrined in its steal a poem that reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” This poem represents a core American value of openness and hope to the world and its struggling masses. And yet the ban on Muslim immigrants and refugees coming from desperate circumstances runs contrary to this value.
One of the first people detained under the ban, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, was an Iraqi interpreter who served the U.S. military for over a decade. He said to reporters at JFK after his release, “What I do for this country? They put the cuffs on.” An Iranian woman named Samira Asgari was coming to Harvard Medical School to work on a cure for tuberculosis, but was banned from entering the country. She tweeted, “I was pretty excited to join @soumya_boston’s lab but denied boarding due to my Iranian nationality.”
“Perhaps most importantly, the order reduces the total permitted intake of refugees for the 2017 fiscal year from 110,000 to 50,000… The reduction in total intake is a cruel blow to refugees from all over the world, both Muslim and otherwise, including many who don’t pose any even remotely conceivable risk. The order condemns thousands of people to the risk of death and oppression or – at best – life in horrendous refugee camps.”
“Trump’s immigration order is, in fact, who we are—at least partly. Denying the poor, huddled masses entry into the country has formed the basis of federal immigration acts since their inception. Trump’s ban does not mark a grand departure from American values, but rather presents American values in their ugliest, most blatant and unapologetic form. A quick glance at the historical record shows that the ban is very much in line with how the U.S. has treated desperate people seeking entry into the country. A century ago this February, the 64th Congress of the United States overrode President Woodrow Wilson’s third veto to pass the 1917 Immigration Restriction Act. This act—for which anti-immigration and eugenics proponents such as the Immigration Restriction League (IRL) had lobbied for decades—barred “idiots, imbeciles, epileptics, alcoholics, poor, criminals, beggars, any person suffering attacks of insanity” from entering the country. The act likewise decreed that immigrants take a literacy test to determine if they represented a “desirable” or “undesirable” population…”
President Obama broke his silence after the election and stated that he “fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discrimination against individuals because of their faith or religion,” and the the ban here constitutes such discrimination.