U.S. President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order that reshapes U.S. immigration law, and there’s been a lot of confusion about it, even within the Government, about who’s affected by this law and precisely what it means.
The Executive Order
So first, the order bans, for a period of 90 days, all “immigrant and non-immigrant” entry into the United States from all citizens of seven nations Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. These seven nations seem to have been chosen because they were cited in 2015 and 2016 laws signed by President Obama that required residents of those countries to get a visa to visit the United States. But the Executive Order states that they can’t enter the United States even with a visa, although there are a few exceptions for diplomats.
The Executive Order initially also seemed to apply to legal, permanent residents of the United States who aren’t citizens so-called “green card” holders, although the language in the order is extremely hard to parse, like, even to those within the government. But after much confusion and emergency lawsuits, it now appears that permanent residents will not be subject to the ban.
It’s also unclear from the language in the order whether it applies to dual citizens. Like, if you are a Canadian citizen who was born in Somalia as Canada’s Immigration Minister is, there’s still some confusion as to whether you can enter the U.S.
Now, critics of this part of the Executive Order, and I should acknowledge that I am among them, argue that it is really poorly targeted. I mean, no foreign nationals from any of those seven countries have killed even a single American in a terrorist attack.
In general, terrorism in the U.S. since 9/11 has been exceedingly rare. Like, in the past decade, American civilians are literally more likely to die by a lightning strike than terrorism. And notably, most of the attacks that do happen in the U.S are carried out by American citizens or permanent residents, and those attacks wouldn’t be prevented by the order. Then there is the second part of the Executive Order, which affects admission of refugees into the United States.
So back in 2011, the Obama administration dramatically slowed the process of refugee applications from Iraq for 6 months, an off-sided precedent for what Trump announced on Friday but this is very different. Trump is suspending all refugee admission to the United States from all countries for 120 days, and suspending all refugee resettlement from Syria indefinitely.
This appears to include people who’ve already been vetted, approved and received visas, which is also very different from what happened in 2011 Side-note. You may have heard that there is no vetting of Syrian refugees coming into the United States that is simply not true. The process includes a huge variety of background checks and interviews and often takes more than two years.
The Executive Order also prioritizes refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution”. Which Trump has said will mean prioritizing Christian refugees when the program restarts although that’s not actually stated in the order and it’s not clear it would be legal. For context though, last year the US accepted about 39,000 Muslim refugees, about 37,500 Christian ones, and also 8,500 people of other or no faith.
But just to be absolutely clear, Muslim refugees who have been vetted and approved for admission to the United States can currently get in, but either cans Christian or Buddhist refugees for at least 120 days, or can interpreters who served with the American Armed Forces in Iraq, because no refugees are being allowed into the United States. And this blanket ban also seems to me very poorly targeted.
For one thing, it lumps all refugees together, whether they’re from Syria or South Sudan or Burma Like, most refugees resettled in the United States in 2015 were not Syrian, they were Burmese. But also, many Syrian refugees are victims of ISIS who can speak firsthand about its horrors and that is a moderating force, not a radicalizing one. Imagining Syrians monolithically is as dangerously simplistic as imagining that ending refugee resettlement will solve the US’s security challenges.
Now, Trump counters that it will make us safer, and he certainly has access to top-secret information that I don’t have access to; but given that these policies wouldn’t have prevented a single US terror fatality from the last 40 years, it’s hard to see exactly how we’re safer. There are also other issues of legal confusion in the order, for instance, the order states “The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution”.