Trump’s ban is not new
Peter Van BurenFor those who say “This is not who we are,” look again. Sadly, it’s who we’ve always been.
President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travelers and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries is only the latest twist of dark threads that have long been present in America. The executive order is not unprecedented. It is evolutionary.
The countries affected by Trump’s executive order – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – have been singled out under American immigration law since the days following 9/11.
Trump’s executive order only lists Syria by name. It refers to the other countries in reference to a 2015 Obama-era law, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12) (And the list thus has nothing to do with any of Trump’s business interests. He did not create it, nor is he the first American president to omit Saudi Arabia from post-9/11 scrutiny). That list, disallows use of America’s visa-free travel program to persons who even once visited the targeted nations. So, for example, British citizens otherwise eligible to enter the United States without a visa must instead appear for questioning and be individually approved for an actual printed visa in their passport at an American embassy or consulate abroad.
Though Trump in his crude style proposes “extreme vetting,” such a process has been in place since the George W. Bush administration, continued under Barack Obama, and is operating today. Among the nations affected: those same seven countries. People from these nations go through an alternate visa procedure that delays their travel as they wait to be vetted by various intelligence agencies.
There were no mass dissent memos filed by State Department employees over any of those steps.
While the idealized stories of individual refugees heard this weekend are deeply emotional, left undiscussed was the fact that compared to other nations, the United States is quite stingy in the number of people it accepts.
America sets an annual ceiling on refugees; for FY 2016 it was 85,000.
Since 1980, the United States has accepted fewer than two million refugees overall, and 40 percent of those were children accompanying their refugee parent(s).
A total of 30 American governors said they’d refuse to accept Syrian refugees into their states if they could. Some 60 percent of all Americans oppose accepting any Syrian refugees.
8 U.S.C. 1152 Sec. 202(a)(1)(A) makes it unlawful to ban immigrants (Legal Permanent Residents, green card holders) because of “nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” The law however is silent on banning non-immigrants such as tourists or students, as well as refugees, for those same reasons.
Challenges to Trump’s order will be difficult. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who was fired after refusing to defend Trump’s executive order in court even after her own department’s Office of the Legal Counsel signed off, appeared to base her opposition on other than strict legal grounds – the intent of the order. She singled out personal objections over whether the order was a “wise or just” policy.
American courts have as recently as 2015 upheld the long-standing non-judicial reviewability of visa decisions made abroad, meaning those decisions cannot be challenged in domestic courts. The United States also generally does not extend the protections of American law to foreigners outside the country. Legal victories this weekend were only limited stays of actions inside American borders, and complied with by the Department of Homeland Security on an exceptional “national interest” basis, not a policy one.
However, the most noteworthy aspect of Trump’s executive action on immigration is the driver of it all: fear.
The United States, from September 12, 2001 through the present day, has fanned the flames of fear. Despite an American here at home having a greater chance of dying in a fall than by terror, Trump follows his predecessors in warning of attacks inside the Homeland committed by the poster child of fear, the foreign militant infiltrating the United States.
Nothing Trump has done regarding immigration will make America safer. But like much of the security theater normalized post-9/11, safety is not the point. Keeping fear alive and maintaining the politically-driven myth that government is on the job protecting the Homeland is what matters.
*This abridged article is taken from Reuters.